The world of Guillermo Del Toro's ninth feature film Crimson Peak is one that is announced with its very first utterance: "Ghosts are real. This much I know," Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) narrates over footage of her bloodied and frightened on a snowy backdrop which is later explicated. Del Toro quickly asserts the claim by bringing forth these ghosts, never turning a blind eye to them for gimmickry and cheap thrills at sudden spooks. The sudden spooks come not despite this forthrightness, but actually because of them. They're inescapable in a way that turning the lens to an empty corridor or revealing it was only the wind could never achieve; the lens turns to a corridor with a plodding, smoky ghost, and it's the wind, but it's so much more, and we're just going to have to deal with that reality for Crimson Peak's duration.
By establishing his world in this way, Del Toro is able to better hide the true horrors of the film. Edith, an aspiring author, later defends her novel by saying that it's "not a ghost story, but a story with ghosts in it," and the same can be said of Crimson Peak itself. The ghosts are merely facts, remnants from another realm that will always stand for the horrors done in this one. By diverting our shaken attention around every corner of the terrible Allerdale Hall, looking for the next phantasm to provide some answers, the truth lurks right at the surface in the brutal deeds done by the crumbling manor's living residents. Del Toro frames his shocking imagery of jarringly realistic violence within the familiar Gothic fantasy land to stunning effect, but it's not a sleight of hand.
In fact, everything is hidden in plain sight with Crimson Peak.
The fatal burst of passionate evil that erupts in Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain) is always contained in her silently pulsing promise of harm that is barely contained through the duration of the film. But the eruption is no less the dazzling for it. If Crimson Peak has a greatest strength it would be this fact, that all of its cards are revealed from the start and we still clap in delight when Del Toro turns one over to show us our card. Somehow it's this fulfillment of promise that makes the film work in a mode that had long been dried up, where houses creak and come to life and ghosts glide through their walls and mysterious lords who are not what they seem are exactly what they seem.
Del Toro's vision, of course, is carried out by the performances pulled out of the actors on screen. Every second of Chastain's performance, from the silent dark breezes of the film's first half to the ravenous storm that befalls Allerdale Hall in Crimson Peak's climax is completely dazzling. Her chemistry with Tom Hiddleston (playing her brother Thomas) and Wasikowska in their warped domestic triangle create near breathless tension and her violent surges plummet the action of the film into joyful chaos by its end, creating ghosts of all, in one way or another. Her presence truly does haunt the film, in the best possible way, which Del Toro makes sure to allude to in Crimson Peak's final shot of her specter, plucking away at her piano lullaby.
Of course, the fantastic performances of Chastain, Hiddleston, Wasikowska, and Charlie Hunnam (Dr. Alan McMichael, who is pretty much just Jax Teller with better bedside manner and wardrobe) were basically a bonus with Crimson Peak. Del Toro hardly needed talent that immense to make a film that looks this good tell a captivating story. Everything put forth on the screen was utter eye candy, from the gorgeously tragic Allerdale Hall and its bloodmud-stained terrain to the turn of the century costuming and special effects. Del Toro has proclaimed that this is his most composed film, and the payoff of that thought and effort is brought to bear in full here. WIth Crimson Peak, he has not only created a world in which ghosts are real, but one in which the horror and the beauty of that realization is to be experienced firsthand.