‘Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities’ Celebrates The Art Of Horror – Review
by Diego Peralta
A good horror story will not come at you with loud jump scares, flashing lights, and a creature with the sole purpose of looking for its next meal. A great horror story will slowly creep into your thoughts, reminding you how powerful the threat can be when the monster knows your every thought. Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities is very aware of this, presenting eight stories in an anthology series designed to keep you awake or even visit you in your nightmares.
Every single one of these tales tries to connect whatever physical threat the characters may face to fear, insecurity or obsession already located in their hearts when their stories begin. Similar to Del Toro’s filmography, horror is explored through the lens of the mind eating itself, displaying how the concept of fear is a very human idea, first and foremost. The true monsters aren’t the creatures, fantastically designed by the team led by Mike Hill, but the character’s loss of hope and sanity in the face of imminent danger.
The stories are set in different time periods, locations, and contexts, allowing each episode to be refreshing after going down the rabbit hole with the previous one. Another similarity between the whole program is the tonal shift presented after the first act of every tale. Ordinary lives take a very sudden turn when the shadows begin creeping from the darkness, but the nature of these transitions is so delightfully extreme they are almost ridiculous. The series can take you from art school to a cult or from a relatively peaceful graveyard to a giant rat’s nest.
Speaking of which, as hard as it could be to find a standout between eight terrifying thrillers, the episode titled Graveyard Rats is powerful enough to give goosebumps to those who dare to listen to this story. David Hewlett (who previously collaborated with Del Toro in the Academy Award-winning The Shape of Water) plays Masson, a grave robber who owes money to very powerful people. When the thief hears there’s a big score which would solve all of his problems, he plans to go on with his business, as usual, only to find that the body he intended to steal from is missing from its coffin.
Masson’s quest to get to the bottom of this mystery is directed by Vicenzo Natali (known for helming films such as Cube, Cypher and Splice). The use of space in this episode is marvellous, generating intense anxiety when the burglar constantly finds himself in very narrow tunnels, crawling around to save his life. At first, rooting for someone who desecrates graves for a living might be hard. Still, Cabinet of Curiosities excels at making you cheer for people of every background simply because you wouldn’t wish these nightmare scenarios upon anyone.
A beautiful performance by Hewlett and Colin Hoult’s cinematography will be enough to keep you away from graveyards for a couple of months. Still, these main factors make this episode the best of the anthology. The valuable prizes that Masson originally digs for become irrelevant next to his desire to escape from the unspeakable terrors found beneath the earth. And yes, while the title of the episode would make you believe this is an exaggerated description of a bunch of rats, you might want to hold on until you have a chance to see it to learn the whole story.
The directors’ understanding of how a strong theme is the barebone of any horror story is the series’ strongest quality. Every story explores the notion that horror can’t exist without a proper sense of hope. In some instances, a sense that is used to fool the audience into thinking everything will be okay when the dust settles, and the monsters crawl back under the bed. Keeping the characters’ hope alive so that it can be squashed once again down the line makes this show a nail-biting ride.
Cabinet of Curiosities preserves Guillermo Del Toro’s trademark touch on horror, delivering eight horrifying stories potent enough to remain at the back of your brain. Catherine Hardwick, Panos Cosmatos, and the other directors involved in the project bring their A-game to produce a modern equivalent to a season of The Twilight Zone. Horror is about the limitations of humanity and their loss of hope, and this anthology series is more than eager to remind us of that fact.