It all started with Cannes, Guillermo del Toro tells me in our wide-ranging video interview. As a competition juror last May he was watching movies like “Son of Saul” and “Dheepan” and realized that he had to stick to making the artistic personal films that have always been the most satisfying. He has abandoned ship on a series of studio movie commitments to concentrate on making films like “Crimson Peak,” though likely at lower budgets. Next he wants to shoot a small-scale movie in black and white.
“After ‘Crimson’ I have a different sense of things I want to do,” he says. “I will do ‘Pacific Rim’ because it’s a universe I created. I have an urge to do a weird movie right away, in June. We are writing and casting. I took myself out of the market after ‘Pacific Rim.’ I feel that hunger and we’ll see what happens.” (He’s giving up producing except for first-time filmmakers in Spanish.)
With “Crimson Peak,” yet another risky picture that Thomas Tull at Legendary and Universal’s Donna Langley were willing to take a chance on when other studios balked, del Toro found his sweet spot. The movie, originally written with Matthew Robbins in 2006, is an exhilarating, swirling amalgam of fantasy, horror, and gothic romance. For the first time, the filmmaker was able to merge the creative artistry of his low-budget Mexican films “Devil’s Backbone” and Oscar-winning “Pan’s Labyrinth” (cinematography, art direction and makeup) with a big-budget studio production without the restrictions of commercial genre conventions. “It’s the most beautiful movie I have ever made,” he says. Inspired by “Barry Lyndon” and “The Leopard,” “Crimson Peak” is packed with what he calls “nutritious eye protein,” as opposed to eye-candy. “We wanted the movie to feel hand-made.”
Whether that will hurt the $55 million movie at the box office is another question. Will “Crimson Peak” find a niche as a specialty film—it may be too hard-R violent for the genteel seniors who populate the art houses these days—or play to a wider audience? Del Toro fought for the R rating, knowing it would negatively impact the box office. Women should eat up the sexy romance between Tom Hiddleston and Mia Wasikowska—impeded by a great character turn by Jessica Chastain as Hiddleston’s wicked sister—while there’s plenty of gruesome horror for del Toro’s core fanbase.
The filmmaker boasts many fans, but will they sit still for his tour-de-force romantic waltz sequence? (Reviews are all over the place.) Will they appreciate the technical artistry of the movie’s coherent, innovative design, from elaborate house with constructed camera pathways to the moist clay that seeps under floor boards and foot prints in glistening white snow, red as blood?
Certainly, del Toro has never made a more gorgeously wrought movie. The detail of the period sets–all character-driven–is Oscar-worthy, as are the directing, cinematography and costumes. Any cinephile has to consider this a must-see for the filmmaking alone.