I may not be the biggest fan of Guillermo del Toro’s most recent film, Crimson Peak, but there’s still a lot that I love and respect about it. First and foremost is the absolutely gorgeous production design and visual style. There isn’t a dull frame to be found here, and that’s more than most films can claim. The cast is committed, the effects are stellar, and the violence is brutally effective.
Universal releases Crimson Peak to Blu-ray/DVD next week, and along with several featurettes and a handful of deleted scenes the disc also includes a commentary track with del Toro.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the Crimson Peak commentary.
Crimson Peak (2015)
Commentator: Guillermo del Toro (director/co-writer)
1. He believes this is not only the most beautiful movie he’s yet directed but also one of the three best. “Of course I’m not objective, and you can think what you want.”
2. It only takes 52 seconds into the commentary before del Toro points out that this is not a horror film and is instead a Gothic romance.
3. He views the birth of Gothic romance in 1764 as “a romantic and emotional reaction to the rigidity and inflexibility of the Age of Reason and academia.” He sees it as a rejection of other narrative forms like fables, fairy tales, myth, and lore.
4. The film opens with muted colors, but he moves into “on camera technicolor” with colors saturated contrary to the expected in a period film.
5. Del Toro believes that film is capable of telling a story beyond what’s written in the screenplay and that you should be able to follow along with the volume down. “The rest is dramaturgy and I value it a lot.”
6. Young Edith’s first ghostly visitation is a nod to del Toro’s mother who was visited by the ghost of her grandmother. “It climbed the bed, and she heard the bed springs creak the night of her funeral.”
7. “There is a theme in the movie of moths versus butterflies,” he says. The motif is visible in woodwork, clothing, and elsewhere. “Lucille (Jessica Chastain) thinks of herself as this moth of the night, and she looks at Edith (Mia Wasikowska) as this weak butterfly.” He resents the idea that beauty equals weakness.
8. He chalks up some negative reviews to male critics who can’t seem to “accept a strong and independent heroine. I think that some of it rubs them wrong.”
9. Del Toro kept careful control of the film’s color scheme as a way of telling the story. One specific involves the limited use of the color red as he reserves it for “the ghosts, the past, the blood, the clay, and Lucille.” He sees it as “the most voracious of colors, and it’s a very tricky color.”
10. The ghost who first visits adult Edith has facial features modeled after Lucille. “The lower portion of the face of the ghost is Lucille’s lips, mouth, jaw, and chin.”
11. The wallpaper glimpsed in the corner of Edith’s childhood bedroom is the same pattern visible in the foyer of Disney’s The Haunted Mansion. “I chose it as an inside joke.”
12. The back of Lucille’s red dress has a design that echoes the spinal cords of the ghosts that appear later.
13. The waltz scene as scripted originally featured everyone dancing, but the producer told del Toro that it would cost over $1 million to shoot that many dancers across two days because it would require paying every extra as a performer. He asked if Edith and Thomas (Tom Hiddleston) could just dance alone, and del Toro said that was ridiculous but then spent a weekend re-structuring the scene.
14. Del Toro creates ten-page biographies of his characters and shares them not only with the actors but with the wardrobe designers and production designers too.
15. The cameo broach that Lucille wears belonged to del Toro’s grandmother, and he previously used it in The Devil’s Backbone.
16. The scene where Thomas breaks Edith’s heart is the first hint that Lucille “moves very little like Mrs. Danvers in Hitchcock’s Rebecca, but she is there, in the shadows, waiting.”
17. The murder of Edith’s father is one of del Toro’s favorite scenes in the movie. “I didn’t want to do it too much, or show too much, but make it swift and brutal and to the point.”
18. The house’s elevator “is fashioned exactly as the butterfly killing jars” visible in Lucille’s bedroom.
19. The ghost that comes to the door while Edith is in the tub is del Toro’s favorite in the film.
20. The red ball is a nod to a film he loves ‐ and that you should love too ‐ called The Changeling. No, not that one. This one.
21. The living room chair Edith sits in and the teacup Edith drinks out of grow 30% larger between their first appearance and their return later on. “That is to create a sense of her becoming weaker and smaller.”
22. The scene where Lucille plays the piano and tells Edith about her mother “is one of the few moments of humor in the movie for me, is the discussion of the mother and her portrait, which sadly looks a lot like my grandmother.”
23. The ghost in the cupboard is his second favorite in the movie.
24. Doug Jones plays both of the ghostly mothers.
25. When he pitched the film to Charlie Hunnam he told the actor “that he’d be playing the damsel in distress, and he said, ‘I’m in.’”
26. The scene where Edith awakens to having coughed up blood “is based on one of my only experiences with ghosts personally.” He was location scouting (for The Hobbit) in New Zealand and stayed in a supposedly haunted hotel. “That night around midnight I was watching a DVD of The Wire, of all things, and I was not in the mood for spectral apparitions, but I heard exactly what you hear here [at 1:04:32]. I heard a murder. I heard these horrible screams, and I heard a man sobbing, and I followed the noise of that murder, and it was coming out of the bathroom from a vent.” This probably explains why he subsequently detached himself from directing The Hobbit.
27. The first kitchen confrontation between Lucille and Edith originally called for Lucille to slap the newcomer, but del Toro realized that if you slap an American girl she would most likely slap back. He didn’t want a cat fight and instead suggested they aim for “a little Blanche Dubois crazy moment with the scrambled eggs.”
28. As a director, del Toro is far more interested in the aesthetics of horror over the mechanics of horror. As a producer he’s more open to those genre beats and cites his involvement on Julia’s Eyes, The Orphanage, and Mama. “We have certainly done the mechanics of horror there, and I’ve enjoyed it.”
29. Chastain asked del Toro for insight into how she should play her character, and he told her not to blink. “She didn’t blink except three times in the film.”
30. He points out that most house-set Gothic romances seem to end in fiery conflagrations, but he didn’t want to go that direct route here. “I thought what if the fire that consumes and destroys everything at Crimson Peak is the fire of Lucille’s violence? I thought that was much more interesting and far more dark and dramatic.”
31. The blood-soaked, wintry brawl at the end of the movie was filmed entirely on a set.
32. The original ending featured all of the ghosts including the women and Edith’s father “and I thought that felt like bullshit to me.” He says the movie is ultimately about love, and the power of Lucille seeing the only thing that would make her lower her guard ‐ the only person she’s ever loved ‐ is a beautiful moment that would have presumably been blurred if other ghosts appeared too.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
- “I like making movies that are very rich worlds with very simple plots.”
- “I want and need an audience that wants to pay attention.”
- “When you’re not into twist and turns, or you reveal at the end that everybody was an alien, or the house is a spaceship, or whatever the fuck.”
- “The movie needs to be applying a certain sense of visual melodrama, and aural melodrama in the music and sound design, it needs to be heightened realty, because then the actors are in the same tone as the camera work and the colors and the design, and everything becomes of a piece.”
- “Perfection has nothing to do with love.”
- “The only real evil in this movie is human.”
- “The grave of the mother is exactly the shape of the mother, and he shape of the mother is the shape of a key hole, and the shape of the key hole is the shape of a human shape in the corridor, and to me this is all signaling the absence of a key.”
- “Now watch the credits. I’m going to go away.”
Mixed as I am on the film itself, del Toro’s commentary on Crimson Peak is a must listen for fans of this movie or movies in general. He’s an incredibly intelligent and articulate man whose love for and knowledge of cinema is immense. He’s not one for sharing on-set anecdotes, but he’s very detailed when it comes to the film’s visuals, themes, and characters. Highly recommended.