Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: Images and details of the episodes of the Netflix anthology series
This setup is more than just a nod to old anthologies. It acts as a means to plant certain expectations and allows each episode to more easily evade the expected results. The Outside, the filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour-directed episode of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is a case in point. It embraces different philosophies about the state of the characters in relation to an electronic device. Most people will recognize that something is wrong thanks to the confusing message that permeates much of the dialogue. But real horror is subtle until it’s not, at which point all preconceived notions are shattered.
Almost every episode is presented this way. Some are scarier than others, especially those with more classic depictions of a given monster. But the general emphasis seems to be on conveying intriguing concepts in new and unsettling ways, essentially creating something that will linger in one’s mind long after the credits have rolled.
Having a driving time of one hour helps in this regard. The characters are given room to breathe before being engulfed in darkness, making it easy for us to engage in their plight. Kate Micucci’s awkward portrayal of Stacey from The Outside is memorable not only because of her strong performance, but also because she has given him time to lean into her character; who she is at the beginning is very different from the person she becomes towards the end. Essie Davis and Andrew Lincoln do a great job playing grieving parents in The Murmuring, while Rupert Grint’s moving performance in Dreams in the Witch House is certainly noteworthy, if a bit tongue-in-cheek considering his previous roles.
All of the episodes share the merits of appropriately long runtimes, solid acting, and what one would assume is a decent budget considering most of the ghosts, witches, and various creepy crawlies look good. The directors do not skimp on violence either. Evocative yet believable imagery is the norm. However, not all episodes reach the highest level. Graveyard Rats, the episode directed by Vincenzo Natali, is quite banal. Most of its running time is spent in a long exposition before culminating in a predictable anticlimactic finale.
The same goes for Lot 36. Although the dialogue between characters is much better, it also ends forgettable. However, the biggest offender would be The Viewing. Based solely on a “lofty” concept and well-written but exhaustive dialogue, it betrays the rest of the series by being downright boring. Its chaotic ending doesn’t justify the time spent building it.
There’s also the idea of being this genre-defying collection: a bunch of stories that will somehow change the way fans see horror. But some of the episodes do the exact opposite by sticking to old tropes. As entertaining as Dreams in the Witch House is, it sadly reduces its black characters to sidekicks and/or sacrificial lambs. It is not known how other people of color were depicted or rarely seen in the first place.
Fortunately, most of the eight episodes are entertaining. Body horror, a rush of atmosphere, exciting concepts expressed in terrifying ways – there’s plenty for horror fans to enjoy. The patchy nature of del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities prevents the series from being the fantastical journey into the macabre that it needs to be. That said, as a whole, the anthology does enough to warrant a few late night visits.