For better or worse (but usually better) (… but sometimes worse!), Guillermo del Toro isn’t afraid to repeat himself. The esteemed director’s films are filled with familiar imagery, themes, and tropes—if you’ve seen any of his stuff, I don’t have to tell you that del Toro loves to let the camera linger on the slimy bodily fluids of some repulsive monster, or endlessly pit spirituality against science, or repeatedly introduce us to beautifully rendered ghosts with sad, amber eyes, filmy white flesh, and some serious unfinished business. Crimson Peak, out this weekend, is no exception. (Read our review of the film here.) Without giving away too much of the plot—as is del Toro’s tradition, much of it depends on the slow reveal—I’ve broken down the gothic romance’s most del-Toro-y tropes.
Large vats of liquid that hide a long-dead body: Somewhere along the line, somebody must have told our boy Guillermo that the best way to dispose of a dead body is to find a gigantic vat of liquid and hurl said body into it. Extra points if the liquid is viscous enough to totally obscure the corpse until the end of time (and/or some enterprising young adult comes along and starts poking at it and fucking everything up). We first saw this trope in The Devil’s Backbone—remember Santi’s (Andreas Munoz) final resting place?–and we see it again in Crimson Peak, when our fair heroine Edith (Mia Wasikowska) goes flouncing about in the basement, despite being warned by her new husband, Sir Thomas Sharpe, (Tom Hiddleston) and his creepy sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) to stay away.
Horrible shit happening underground: Speaking of basements! Del Toro really enjoys bringing nearly all of his characters underground, then subjecting them to all manner of horrors. There was the cavern-under-the-kitchen in The Devil’s Backbone, wherein children are murdered, other children are nearly murdered, and, eventually, our friendly neighborhood child-killer (Eduardo Noriega) Jacinto meets his demise. There was the entire New York Subway System in Mimic, which housed thousands of man-made bugs that evolved to look like men, then tried to kill said men (fun fact: I could not eat for 1,453 days after watching this disgusting movie, which is basically just one long close-up of giant, crunchy bugs). There was the underground lair in Pan’s Labyrinth, which, depending on whether or not you believe in fairies and fauns, was the real home of Ofelia (Ivana Baquero). There was the other underground lair in Pan’s Labyrinth, wherein a flesh-monster with eyeballs implanted in his hands nearly had his flesh-monster way with Ofelia. Oh, and don’t forget Rasputin’s (Karel Roden) subway hideout in Hellboy. Crimson Peak, as I mentioned earlier, features its own bizarre basement, where red clay bubbles up from the ground and, naturally, people try to murder each other.
Totally dysfunctional sexual relationships: It wouldn’t be a Guillermo del Toro film without a sexual relationship—implied or uncomfortably demonstrated—between two people who should definitely not be having sex. The Devil’s Backbone saw Jacinto boning his de facto mother (Marisa Paredes) on the DL. Hellboy saw one undead Nazi madly in love with another. Mimic saw Mira Sorvino lusting after a Jeremy Northam. Crimson Peak similarly suggests some weird sexual chemistry between some humans who should not have sexual chemistry. All of this begs the question: Which undead Nazi is Guillermo del Toro sleeping with these days?
An awkward sex scene (or couples that never have sex): For all of his good work pairing inappropriate sexual partners, del Toro can’t shoot a good sex (or even sexy) scene for shit. I love you, Guillermo, but it’s true. Don’t be upset. There’s something off, something awkwardly choreographed and utterly sexless, about most of the would-be lusty scenes in his films; del Toro tends to smash his two leads together like a toddler with a pair of naked Barbie dolls. Remember when Jacinto “romances” Conchita (Irene Visedo), his more age-appropriate love interest, by grabbing her roughly about the ears? And, like, we’re expected to swoon? Or when Hellboy passionately smooches Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) in a blaze of blue light, despite having absolutely zero lips to speak of? Guys, he has no lips! Usually, though, del Toro just implies that sex has occurred at some point (i.e., when Sorvino wonders if she’s pregnant in Mimic) rather than showing it. Crimson Peak puts these uncomfortable and/or nonexistent moments to shame, though, with its sex scene between Sir Thomas and his new bride. Sure, we see Tom Hiddleston’s bare ass for a few seconds. But we also see del Toro’s idea of foreplay, which is limited to approximately one upper-thigh kiss before our boy Tom gets to thrusting.
Blood floating endlessly out of a ghost’s wound: According to del Toro’s laws of the Undead Universe, the manner in which a person dies—a head injury, a stab wound—will always be apparent, as they will continue to bleed out of said wound ad infinitum as they roam the Earth in their incorporeal form. This makes little sense—like, why is this ghost still bleeding when it is entirely out of blood? … seems like a lot of work for a ghost—but I love it. I love it, Guillermo! Our old pal Santi in The Devil’s Backbone, for example, tends to bleed in soft, red, smoky wisps out of his ghost-head, which looks like a cracked kitchen tile that needs replacing. Similarly, in Crimson Peak, every ghost we encounter is permanently stuck in the state they were in when they died. Some of them are head-to-toe red, some are jet black, some are pale white, but more than one of them is gifted with Guillermo’s favorite trait: wispy, floaty face-blood.
Extended close-ups on really gross bugs: It’s no secret that del Toro loves bugs. This is my least favorite thing about his movies, because I’ve been known to threaten self-immolation when a bug is in my general vicinity, but it’s fine, let’s totally talk about it. I don’t know if any of his films are totally bug-free: You’ve got the horrendous man-roaches in Mimic; the “fairies” in Pan’s Labyrinth that are totally just bugs and look like they’d be so crunchy if you accidentally stepped on them (wait, why are we talking about stepping on crunchy bugs, I want to die); the “insect in amber” metaphor repeated verbally and visually throughout Devil’s Backbone; the beetle-esque insect trapped inside the Cronos device in, well, Cronos; and, as of this weekend, tons of gigantic moths just flapping about the mansion in Crimson Peak, their wings so heavy and thick you can practically feel them fluttering on your skin oh God help I can’t continue.