Where To Start With... Guillermo del Toro
In one of Reddit's 'Ask Me Anything' sessions a couple of years back, director Guillermo del Toro revealed that his first experiments with filmmaking began when he was just eight years old, borrowing his father's Super 8 video camera to make short films featuring, amongst other things, a serial-killing potato. The plot to this seconds-long opus apparently involved the murderous spud killing the young Guillermo's mother and brothers, before meeting its untimely end under the wheels of a passing car.
It's an anecdote that offers a glimpse inside the fertile imagination of a young man who would grow up to be one of the most unique filmmakers around. Along with his compatriots Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu, del Toro is one of a trio of Mexican directors affectionately referred to in Hollywood circles as 'The Three Amigos'. The trio even started a production company together, Cha Cha Cha Films, in 2007, but while all three have directed films that have won them the coveted golden statuettes at the Oscars, Cuarón and Iñárritu's careers have seen them tackle films like Gravity and The Revenant – Oscar fodder if ever there was any – while del Toro's films are often of a more offbeat nature; always hauntingly beautiful, but with a predisposition towards genres like fantasy, science fiction and horror.
His latest film, Crimson Peak, arrives in stores on DVD and Blu-ray from Monday (February 15th) and falls very much into the latter category. The film is set at the turn of the 20th century and stars Mia Wasikowska as Edith Cushing, a young author and the daughter of a wealthy American businessman who finds herself more fascinated with writing ghost stories than the flimsy romance tales that her editor commissions. That may be down to a ghostly visitation Edith receives as a child, when her dead mother appears as an apparition warning her to 'beware Crimson Peak'.
When a young English baronet named Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddlestone) arrives in America seeking investment for an invention of his, Edith's father, Carter Cushing, is one of the men he's hoping to persuade. Carter declines the opportunity, but Edith is attracted to Thomas and when the pair become romantically involved, her unimpressed father bribes Thomas to end their relationship and return to England with his sister Lucile (Jessica Chastain).
When Carter is subsequently murdered, Thomas sends a note to Edith explaining his actions and she decides to join him in England so that they can be married and live together in the Sharpe family residence, a palatial estate that has fallen into disrepair. It isn't long however before the spooky mansion and Lucile's coldness towards her begin to make her feel uncomfortable, and when she disobey's Thomas' instructions not to venture into the basement she uncovers a dark secret and realises she is in great danger.
Just like all of del Toro's films, Crimson Peak is richly atmospheric and beautifully shot, and while the haunted house trope is a well-worn one, the film's script – written by del Toro and Matthew Robbins – contains enough smart twists and turns to avoid becoming predictable. Jessica Chastain gives the kind of ice queen performance that Nicole Kidman would be proud of, while Hiddleston and Wasikowska are equally impressive in this tense and brooding horror.
You can find the trailer below, beneath that we've picked out five highlights from Guillermo del Toro's directorial career so far...
Guillermo del Toro's first feature film, Cronos, begins in 1536 with an alchemist who creates a mechanical device that has the power to provide eternal life. When the alchemist is killed, the device is lost and is only recovered 400 years later by an elderly antique dealer named Jesus, who discovers the device in the base of a statue. He soon notices his strength returning and the wrinkles disappearing from his skin and realises that the device must have had some positive effect on his health, but it's only when an antique collector approaches him about buying the device that he begins to understand its true significance. Though the film isn't packed with big names, Cronos stars Ron Perlman and veteran Argentine actor Federico (both of whom the director would reunite with on his later films) and provides an early indication of del Toro's knack for taking a well-worn narrative and adding an imaginative twist.
Once described by del Toro as his most personal film, The Devil's Backbone stars a young Fernando Tielve as 12-year-old boy named Carlos who is sent to live in an orphanage after his father is killed in the Spanish Civil War. The orphanage is run by a kindly old couple, but the place itself is ominous thanks largely to an unexploded bomb that sits half-embedded in its courtyard. When Carlos arrives he starts seeing ghostly visions of a boy called Santi who vanished on the night the bomb landed. Santi repeatedly warns Carlos that “many of you will die”, but there's more to this place than an unexploded bomb and the young Carlos soon discovers the orphanage holds some deadly secrets. Very much in keeping with del Toro's sensibilities, this is an atmospheric ghost story thriller with a political twist.
Based on Mike Mingella's graphic novel of the same name, Hellboy stars Ron Perlman once again as the film's otherworldly protagonist. For anyone not familiar with Mingella's work, the story revolves around a good-natured demon who is summoned to Earth during WWII in a ritual conducted by a group of Nazis and the Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin, but ends up working for a shadowy government agency called the Bureau of Paranormal Research & Defence, who are tasked with dealing with alien or paranormal threats to civilisation – of which there are plenty. Much like Robert Rodriguez's Sin City, Hellboy runs comic-book adventure through a neo-noir filter with more humour and wit than most superhero films and, over the decade or so since its release, Hellboy has become a bona fide cult classic.
Of all the films del Toro has made throughout his career thus far, Pan's Labyrinth is arguably his finest. Set once again during the Spanish Civil War, the film stars Ivana Baquero as a young girl named Ofelia who is sent along with her pregnant mother to live with her new stepfather, a sadistic captain in General Franco's army whom she fears as much as she hates. Ofelia is visited by a fairy who leads her to labyrinth filled with strange creatures and tells her she is a princess of this strange new fantasy world, but must complete three tasks to prove her royalty. Winning three Oscars for its cinematography, make-up and art direction, Pan's Labyrinth is a beautifully shot and incredibly well weaved story of a child coping with the harsh realities of life in the adult world. Not to be missed.
The success of Pan's Labyrinth began to open doors for del Toro in Hollywood and he was soon handed the opportunity to direct a proper, big-budget blockbuster. That's exactly what he delivered with Pacific Rim, a sci-fi adventure with a cast that includes Idriss Elba, The Blacklist's Diego Klattenhoff and Horrible Bosses star Charlie Day. In a futuristic world where the human race is locked in a war with monstrous sea creatures, two men are selected for a do-or-die mission in a last-ditch attempt to save the planet from armageddon. Visually spectacular and action-packed from start to finish, this is a film that proves del Toro is no one-trick pony.