Yet the screenplay with its rather slight story and straightforward approach don't quite match the grandeur and opulence of the set decoration. Nonetheless, the action moves swiftly, and the pace although uneven keeps the audience entertained and enthralled by the very dark possibilities that lurk around every corner. The film is also aided by a highly charismatic cast that elevates the proceedings. Tom Hiddleston proves to be a beguiling leading man, Mia Wasikowska is delightfully smart, Jessica Chastain is simply sinister in a performance that devours the screen.
With so many odes to classic gothic cinema it was disheartening that del Toro again relies on cartoonish CGI to create his ghosts – some of which are truly terrifying! Yet there's a certain familiarity about them and they clearly share the DNA of the ghosts from Mama, a 2013 film del Toro produced. Considering the lengths he went to create this world, one wonders how practical effects combined with more subtle CGI would have given these frightening moments more presence and weight.
This type of period movie may not have the broad appeal of a contemporary horror film, but for fans of the haunted house or gothic romance subgenres, this is a decadent feast to be savored and relished. It's the kind of movie that comes along once in a generation with its overwrought, sumptuous imagery and portentously gloomy sternness. It's creepy, full of dread, often bloody, exquisitely thrilling, and even occasionally scary – a perfect movie for a dark Halloween night.