Cabinet of Curiosities, Halfway Through

Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities is a horror anthology released on Netflix as Halloween 2022 approaches. There are eight episodes. I’ve watched the first four, and intend to watch and review the second half of the season.

I have mostly positive, albeit very mixed feelings, about the show so far. I like the way that Guillermo introduces each episode, drawing from a cabinet an object and a statuette of the director. Each episode has a different director. Each director so far has done an excellent job, with creepiness appropriate to the episode.

The acting is similarly excellent, and distinct to each episode: there are no shared characters or actors. There are recurring themes: for example, each of the first two episodes shows us that it’s a bad idea to be in debt to bad people. But I don’t think that Guillermo is going for anything more unified than well-directed horror introduced by his good self.

The first episode, “Lot 36”, is my favorite so far. Tim Blake Nelson stars as a veteran who certainly doesn’t arouse liking, but does arouse some sympathy. Tim is superb, as is the whole cast. I particularly liked Martha Burns as Agatha, through whom he tries to sell some strange old things in order to pay his debt. Of course, some of the things are really strange…

The second episode, “Graveyard Rats”, is my least favorite of the first four episodes. It features David Hewlett as a grave-robber, some wicked Massachusetts accents, and a ton of rats. It’s not bad, but it is predictable, and outstays its welcome, even though it is the shortest of these episodes at 39 minutes. Maybe you should just watch the trailer, since this episode is as dark as well-directed as the series itself.

The next episode, “The Autopsy”, consists to a large extent of F. Murray Abraham slicing in to and recording his comments on bodies. So yes, it’s even more watchable than most of the Cabinet. But in this episode, as in the anthology so far, the writing doesn’t match up to the performances and direction.

The fourth episode, “The Outside” is the hardest for me to review. I can best describe it as three thirds, each of about 20 minutes, each better than the one before. In the first third, we are invited to find Kate Micucci unattractive. I found that puzzling, even though she has an unbecoming long hairstyle. In the second third, she goes crazy for a beauty product. The last third is crazy in a very good way. I expect that this will be, for many people, the best episode so far.

You can see more details of, and more perspectives on, Cabinet of Curiosities at Letterboxd, where I have a list of the episodes. If you’ve watched, which is your favorite of the first four?

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