Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities opens with, well, Guillermo del Toro himself. The director appears at the beginning of every episode (he did so in the first two episodes currently streaming on Netflix, and I believe the series will follow this pattern) and gives us the title of the story along with the name of the director who made it.
Episode 1 - Lot 36
The first story is titled Lot 36 and is directed by Guillermo Navarro. It's about a man named Nick (Tim Blake Nelson) who owes a debt to some people and, to pay it off, buys a storage unit. The storage unit is filled with antique objects, among which the fourth volume of a very rare demonic book could fetch him $300,000. Nick is incurious, irritated, and angry. He simply wants money.
Lot 36 gets its slow-burn tempo right. The uneasiness keeps piling up, and you sense it building up to something. The light in the storage facility only stays on for a few minutes, after which a dial must be turned to again activate the light. This adds to the tense atmosphere and further elevates the feeling that someone or something would jump out of the shadows and shock us with its sinister appearance. The payoff is a bit underwhelming, but that creature looks devilishly creepy.
Episode 2 - Graveyard Rats
The second story is Vincenzo Natali's The Graveyard Rats, and it begins with two grave robbers being tricked by another grave robber named Masson (David Hewlett). While robbing a grave, a rat bites Masson's hand, though it's not the only body part that will come in contact with rats. An army of rats will first fall on Masson in a dream sequence, and then later, they will actually run over his body as if trying to step on him with their tiny feet. His presence, along with that of rats, becomes so common that both sights seem to merge at one point. When we see his face through a bowl, it represents the countenance of a big, satanic rat. Masson is afraid of claustrophobic places, yet he will soon find himself crawling in a confined setting. When the rats steal a corpse, he follows them into a hole. Let's just say it does not prove to be the best decision of Masson's life.
Hewlett's performance matches the horror-comedy tone of The Graveyard Rats. It's a synchronized dance of humor and horror and yields wonderful results. However, the scenes inside the mentioned hole go on for so long that any sense of tension, claustrophobia, and humor gets killed in the process. After a while, you merely admire the effort and the images from a distance.
Episode 3 - The Autopsy
David Prior's The Autopsy begins with a blast. No, literally! A miner jumps on an elevator like a madman while his colleagues tell him to stop his nonsense. After getting off it, he throws a ball, which explodes like a bomb. Sometime later, a medical examiner named Carl (F. Murray Abraham) is summoned to help in the investigation. An old sheriff informs him about a blood-drained corpse found in the woods. How is that corpse related to the mining accident? Who is that man who threw the bomb-like sphere? Is he Eddie or Joe? Was the explosion triggered as a means of escape or to destroy the sphere itself?
When Carl prepares to cut the bodies for postmortem, he begins by apologizing to them. The same cannot be said about The Autopsy, as it unapologetically displays the internal human organs. A voice whispers to Carl to run, and there are creaking noises in the distance. The lights are minimum, and the shadows are maximum - a stylistic choice that underlines the fact that both the characters and the viewers don't know what's in store and where the story will eventually head. Sure, it's all bonkers and unpredictable, but after a while, the talky nature of The Autopsy makes it as - if not more - ugly as the gore itself.
Episode 4 - The Outside
The fourth episode, titled The Outside and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, is by far the best story I have seen in this anthology. It's about a woman named Stacey (Kate Micucci), a bank teller who gets obsessed with the idea of changing her outer appearance. She is smart and funny, but these qualities are not enough to attract the attention of her female co-workers, who only talk about dicks and sex. Stacey wants to be like Gina (Kylee Evans), which means she wants to have perfect skin and be surrounded by a crowd of women.
The one who is beautiful gets to be the center of attention. Stacey thinks her dreams would be fulfilled by Alo Glo, a skincare product. And so, The Outside becomes a funny, disturbing, and disorienting story about the insecure need to be pretty. Micucci gives a terrific performance. Her sweet face and big, wide eyes evoke our sympathies. When we watch her suffer with those itching and red skin, we wish for her to get the happy ending she so desires. The Outside is well-made and effective.
Episode 5 - Pickman's Model
Director Keith Thomas's Pickman's Model is about art and artists. It follows William Thurber (Ben Barnes), an art student who comes across Richard Pickman (Crispin Glover) and his disturbing images. In the classroom, the art teacher instructs his students to paint whatever they see in front of them. Everyone, including William, paints a human figure as accurately as possible. But Richard's creation is extremely crooked and...different. He has a fondness for darkness, ugliness, and corruption, which is precisely what crops up in his weird paintings.
Everybody is revolted by Richard's work. He, on the other hand, blames the audience. But William is deeply affected by Richard's paintings, and not in a good way. The first time he goes through the creepy canvas', he comes out dazed and sees a shocking view inside a carriage (a man sucking hairy breasts). You can behold Pickman's Model as a statement on art and its influence on the audience. Should we blame the movies for spoiling someone, or should we inspect the individual himself? I support the latter argument, but you don't need to get all brainy to enjoy the tale. The highlight here is the way the paintings are moved to create an unsettling effect.
Episode 6 - Dreams in the Witch House
The next story is directed by Catherine Hardwicke, and its name is Dreams in the Witch House. It opens with a promise of a happy ending, though it does not specify who really would receive the happy ending. Will it be humans or monsters? On team humans is a man named Walt (Rupert Grint), a member of the Spiritualist Society, trying hard to connect with his dead sister. He saw her spirit when he was young, and from that moment on, he is convinced there exists a different dimension full of souls. His quest leads him to various "witches" and "magicians" who claim to have supernatural powers. Alas, they all turn out to be a hoax.
Dreams in the Witch House is about grief and its denial. Walt is unable to move on with his life because he cannot accept that his sister has died. He gives up playing music and desperately chases the unknown. The tone tip toes between comedy and horror, but the former aspect doesn't land with force. Not all the scenes work. The one where a sister asks her guests to not dirty the floor or the one where a rat cheers for a witch, falls flat, and feels awkward. Still, the story reaches poignant levels thanks to committed performances.
Episode 7 - The Viewing
In Panos Cosmatos' The Viewing, four guests are invited to a rich man's house for an evening of drugs, booze, and flattering conversations. The house has a name - The Sandpiper House. It's also illuminated with red lights, a color that ends up foreshadowing a bloody event. Of course, there will be blood. This is a horror story, after all. But why are these particular guests invited to the house? The host, Lionel Lassiter (Peter Weller), says he picked the best minds for the occasion. But what's the reason? Surely, he does not just want to try various drugs with them.
Cosmatos continues to prove that he is an interesting sci-fi horror filmmaker (watch Mandy if you haven't). In The Viewing, he has created a house with marvelous architecture and uses lights dramatically for hypnotic purposes. One of the strengths of this series has been the creative design of monsters, and that positive aspect is present in this short. Like Lionel's guests, even we are kept in the dark, as we are never sure where the story is headed. The Viewing is stylish, fascinating, and a lot of fun to watch. You can also say that it's worth viewing.
Episode 8 - The Murmuring
The last story in this series is Jennifer Kent's The Murmuring. It's about a couple, Nancy (Essie Davis) and Edgar (Andrew Lincoln), who are professional bird watchers and who arrive at an island to observe dunlins. Their caretaker has arranged a big house for them to stay in during their work period, and the two are happy and thankful. Nancy and Edgar look like a sweet, old couple. They talk politely and release warm smiles. However, we slowly learn that they are coping with a personal loss. Nancy is so affected by the tragedy that she cannot make love to her husband. She needs more time.
Soon, Nancy starts to hear footsteps and sees a baby lying next to her and a woman screaming and running toward her. Is the house haunted, or are these visions nothing but a product of Nancy's grief and imagination? After The Outside, The Murmuring is the only other story I absolutely loved. That doesn't mean other stories are bad. One of the best things about Cabinet of Curiosities is that all the stories are good, if not excellent. It's just that this and The Outside are my favorites. The Murmuring is sad and scary and serves as a fitting conclusion to this superb anthology.
Get all latest content delivered to your email a few times a month.
Bringing Pop Culture News from Every Realm, Get All the Latest Movie, TV News, Reviews & Trailers
Got Any questions? Drop an email to [email protected]