Guillermo del Toro returns to his roots (see The Devil's Backbone) to tell a colorful, frightening, and bloody ghost story. But as was the case with The Devil's Backbone, the ghosts are merely a side note, a tool to solve a much darker mystery. And with that, the film gives us so much more than a simple ghost story. It's more of a gothic horror, an adult fairy tale of sorts. Tom Hiddleston and a brilliantly against type Jessica Chastain are the aforementioned fairy tale Hansel and Gretal. Mysterious, sinister, conflicted, the slow burn of their relationship and past is the real heart of the story.
After the brutal murder of her father, a young writer (played with impeccable subtlety by Mia Wasikowska) is whisked away to a grotesque mansion by Hiddleston and Chastain where she soon learns their dark past and true intentions. The house is like a decaying body, a nightmare funhouse, as cozy and decadent as it is surreal and treacherous. It provides the perfect setting for the films white-knuckled second half as the cold and snow enhance the ultimate climax.
The film is a real treat for fans of vintage Euro-style horror. A wild pastiche of Mario Bava colors, Dario Argento violence, and touches of Jean Rollin and Stanley Kubrick atmosphere. Bottom line: it's a great atmospheric period story punctuated by some real wtf scares and violence.