There are many reasons Guillermo del Toro is one of the most singular, striking filmmakers working today. But one thing all of del Toro’s films have in common is that they are impeccably designed. He relishes the opportunity to create a living, breathing world on screen in each directorial outing, and his process on each feature always involves an extended design period in which he crafts the look and feel of the movie and everyone in it. This is especially true of his new Gothic romance Crimson Peak, which just may be his most lavishly designed film yet. Luckily, the entire process has been immortalized in Legendary and Insight Editions’ stunning new book Crimson Peak: The Art of Darkness.
Written by author Mark Salisbury, who previously chronicled the crafting of Alice in Wonderland and Prometheus in prior “making of” books, The Art of Darkness is a deep dive into the world of Crimson Peak, leaving no stone unturned. Buoyed by gorgeous photography, incredibly detailed foldouts and “extras”, and insights from del Toro, his cast, and his production team, this is a must-have companion for any cinephile curious about del Toro’s process and how he went about creating his rich ode to the Gothic romance genre.
Crimson Peak takes place at the turn of the 20th century and follows Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska), an aspiring author who, in the wake of a family tragedy, finds herself torn between the love for her childhood friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) and a mysterious outsider named Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who lives in a dilapidated mansion with his even more mysterious sister, Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain).
Salisbury’s book begins with a wonderful foreword written by del Toro himself, so right off the bat this feels like an invitation to pick the brain of one of our most exciting filmmakers. He explains that creating a modern Gothic romance has been a desire of his for decades, and that with Crimson Peak he aims to maintain cornerstone sensibilities of the genre while making them more stylized and more perverse in order to present the genre to a new generation of viewers. Key in translating the Gothic romance to the 21st century, del Toro says, was amping up two aspects that were always bubbling under the surface: sex and violence.
This focus on honoring the genre while at the same time elevating it to make it exciting and fresh is prevalent throughout The Art of Darkness, as Salisbury threads a “making of” story while maintaining an intense focus on the thematic aspects of the film. You’ll learn about the intense craftsmanship that went into designing and constructing the massive Allerdale Hall set, sure, but del Toro and his cast also talk at length about the character and story themes that are the beating heart of this picture. It’s this blending of the “nuts and bolts” aspects of filmmaking with more in-depth analysis at a critical level that makes The Art of Darkness so fulfilling.
The first few chapters of the book are each devoted to the four main characters, with insights from Wasikowska, Hunnam, Hiddleston, and Chastain littered throughout. The actors and del Toro dive deep on not only the characters themselves, but also the casting, production, and rehearsal process, with plenty of fascinating tidbits to be found. For example, del Toro and Hunnam separately explain how the filmmaker wanted the Pacific Rim actor for the part of Alan because he thought his modern day charms would make for a nice foil opposite the “old world” sensibilities of Thomas. Hunnam was initially looking forward to embracing a character so different from himself—until del Toro made it clear he cast him because he wanted Alan to be like Hunnam.
Each character chapter also includes little foldout biographies, which provide detailed background on the main quartet. On all of his Spanish-language films, del Toro writes rich, in-depth biographies for each of his main characters that he then gives to his actors. He employed this technique for the first time on one of his English-language pictures with Crimson Peak, with these little biographies offering the actors a different kind of understanding of their characters, from what smells they like and dislike to their favorite foods.
These first chapters are littered with details on Kate Hawley’s lavish costume designs, accompanied by a bounty of photographs and sketches that offer an even closer look at del Toro’s process in designing the humans that would populate his film. But this being a Guillermo del Toro picture and all, it should come as no surprise that the world of Crimson Peak is also populated by a bounty of otherworldly creatures. Indeed, the book dives deep into the designing and building of the various ghosts that haunt the film, though these chapters are best left to pore over after you’ve seen the movie.
If architecture is more your speed, The Art of Darkness has you covered. Production designer Tom Sanders began by created a 3D-printed 5x5x3 model of Allerdale Hall, which del Toro could use to plan out every shot in advance. In fact, the set was constructed to the exact specifications of del Toro’s actors—that’s how detailed the design of this movie was. In the actual building of the set, del Toro wanted to be able to shoot 360 degrees, so Sanders and his team had to create ceilings for each room—a practice that’s uncommon on film sets, as the lighting is usually rigged where a ceiling would be. As a result, director of photography Dan Laustsen embraced this aspect of the film and opted to light each room with a single source.
The depth and scope of The Art of Darkness will likely be unmatched when it comes to chronicling the making of Crimson Peak. What sets Salisbury’s book apart, however, is its intense focus on character and theme. Yes, the book offers glorious insight into the practical aspects of how the Gothic romance was realized—and visually it’s a wonderful coffee table companion—but it also dives deep into the psychology and crafting of the characters. This is really del Toro’s sensibility as a filmmaker in a nutshell. His films are lavishly crafted, but he’s always equally interested in character and theme. That’s what makes Crimson Peak—his most impeccably designed film yet—so exciting, and by extension makes The Art of Darkness: The Making of Crimson Peak a must-read for the del Toro faithful.