This article contains spoilers for Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities episode seven, The Viewing.
I have finally finished watching Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, and I have mixed feelings on the season as a whole. There were great episodes (The Murmuring, The Viewing, The Autopsy), okay episodes (The Outside, Lot 36, Graveyard Rats), and bad episodes (Pickman’s Model, Dreams in the Witch House). That isn’t surprising. With an anthology series, you expect a range of quality. As different creative teams head up each installment, it isn't unusual for the results to run the gamut. But, the biggest bummer of this season is not that there was a range of quality, but that there wasn't nearly enough variety of vision.
Most of the episodes looked very similar. Despite being set in a variety of different time periods and locations, Lot 36, The Autopsy, Graveyard Rats, Pickman’s Model, and Dreams in the Witch House all boast the kind of sheen we tend to expect from Netflix originals. Still, there are a few installments that exhibit a singular vision.
The Outside effectively uses filmmaking techniques to distinguish itself. Director Ana Lily Amirpour uses lots of wide angle close-ups on protagonist Stacey’s face to convey a pervasive sense of social anxiety. The Murmuring, helmed by The Babadook director Jennifer Kent, is similarly distinctive, shot with a filmic softness and a gray and blue palette that conveys the story’s tender sadness. For my money, it's the best of the bunch.
But, The Viewing is by far the most distinctive. Directed by Panos Cosmatos and co-written by Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn, The Viewing feels like it came from another series entirely. Cosmatos and Stewart-Ahn also worked together on Mandy, the vibe-heavy 2018 revenge horror film that set Nicolas Cage on his current comeback trajectory. The Viewing has much more in common with that film than it does with the rest of Cabinet of Curiosities, with intense, moody lighting, heavy image grain, a synthy score, and confrontational use of close-up.
The only installment of Cabinet of Curiosities that isn't based on pre-existing material, The Viewing tells the original story of Lionel Lassiter, an extraordinarily wealthy collector (played by RoboCop himself, Peter Weller), who has invited four well-respected people in different fields — Eric André as a record producer, Charlyne Yi as an astrophysicist, Steve Agee as an author, and Michael Therriault as a psychic — to his mansion to view an unspecified object. When they get there, the eccentric billionaire — at least, he seems like a billionaire; the episode doesn't put an exact number on his vast wealth — invites them to partake in the finest vices money can buy. Their favorite drinks are waiting for them when they arrive at his conversation pit, but he soon serves expensive whiskey, passes around fancy doobies, and coats a mirror's surface in lavish cocaine.
This is the bulk of The Viewing. The guests talk with Lassiter about his mansion, his expensive tastes, and his approach to collecting, which even includes enticing people who are the best in their field to work exclusively for him. Lassiter mentions at one point that the music playing over the speakers as they talk was produced exclusively to play in his house. He even raises the idea of hiring André's character to do the same for another property he owns.
They never have the chance to see that through. When the group eventually goes to view the object in question — an otherworldly rock as dark and mysterious as Iago's Mirror — all except André and Yi are killed by the alien creature that emerges. The episode ends with the creature, having seized (or, if you prefer, collected) Lassiter's body, escaping. In the final shot, the camera cranes up to reveal that the creature has emerged into an unsuspecting city.
Throughout, The Viewing feels distinctly like it was created by the same person who made Mandy. With DP Michael Ragan, Cosmatos successfully brings his unique visual style to Cabinet of Curiosities. This is the strength of an anthology series. Though it must be curated in some way, the curation process can be, in part, finding people who know what they're doing and letting them do it. If Cabinet of Curiosities returns for a second season, I would love to see it dispense with the idea that there even needs to be a "house style" at all. Instead, I hope Netflix and del Toro encourage the creators they bring on to imprint as much of their personal touch as possible on their episodes. Cosmatos did, and the results are there for the viewing.
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