This article contains spoilers for Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: “The Outside.”
Struggling to fit in is something that most people can relate to. Whether you’re a young person or a grown adult, trying to find your place in this world is a daunting task, especially when society seems to be screaming at you what you should and shouldn’t be. Episode 4 of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, titled “The Outside,” takes the horrors of fitting in quite literally, using surrealism to depict the lengths that some will go to be accepted.
“The Outside” follows Stacey (Kate Micucci) as she tries to fit in with the glamorous women she works with at the bank. Much to her surprise, Stacey is invited to their Secret Santa party, where she’s gifted a fancy high-end lotion called Alo Glo. To fit in, Stacey uses the lotion even after it makes her break out in a full-body rash. She’s eager for the “body, mind, and soul” transformation promised by the Alo Glo infomercial man (Dan Stevens), who seems to speak to her through the television, no matter the cost.
Director of “The Outside,” Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, The Bad Batch) tells Den of Geek that “the whole thing is about [how] the outside is what we judge everything by, and how much importance we give to the outside, the surface. You know, what’s inside is so different, no matter who you are, it’s so different from the outside. And that’s true for everybody. And I think that like a madness can happen in being too obsessed with just the outside.”
And this “madness” is what plagues Stacey as she becomes obsessed with Alo Glo. She orders an entire case of the lotion, hiding it from her husband Keith (Martin Starr) in the basement. As he grows more and more concerned, the lotion comes to life oozing out of the tubes until it forms a creature that Amirpour dubs the “lotion lady.”
But Amirpour never wanted the lotion lady to be a wholly “scary type of entity” as it was written in the original script. Instead, she feels like the lotion lady represents “the seduction of this ideal you that you believe might exist somewhere, you know if a genie in the bottle could just give you the answer.” She goes on to say that “it’s like it has to be something that’s somehow seductive before you realize that it has some doom and it has something ominous about it.”
Ominous is the perfect word to describe the ending of “The Outside,” which sees Stacey and the lotion lady effectively become one in a sequence reminiscent of Annihilation and 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In this case, however, Stacey is willing to merge with this entity and transform into what she believes to be her true self. Like a butterfly coming out of its chrysalis, Stacey emerges from her bathtub transformed and covered in Alo Glo goo. She arrives at work and finally feels accepted by her coworkers, but at what cost? She killed and taxidermied her husband, one of the few people who accepted her pre-transformation, after he tried to convince her to stop using Alo Glo. Now all she has are the superficial women she works with.
“The Outside” ends with an unsettling close up of Stacey in an almost euphoric state as the sound of her gossiping co-workers fades away. But just because she’s finally found the acceptance she’s been craving, doesn’t mean that this is a happy ending for Stacey. When asked about the ending, Amirpour emphasizes that even though Stacey has achieved “this dream of being the ideal you,” that this euphoric feeling and level of ‘utopic acceptance’ that she has reached is “a temporary thing.”
Stacey’s predicament is one that many can relate to – if given the opportunity to become the “ideal” version of yourself, would you take it? Despite how visceral and horrifying Stacey’s transformation is, it’s hard to deny how popular Alo Glo would be if it existed in the real world. Aside from the supernatural elements of Alo Glo, it fits right in with all of the wellness products and experiences peddled by celebrities and instagram influencers that promise to improve our lives and our appearances.
As someone who was bullied in school and still struggles with self-acceptance, “The Outside” really hit hard for me. I’d like to think that the two years I’ve spent in therapy would keep me from succumbing to Dan Stevens’ smooth infomercial voice, but at the same time I know that there’s a part of me that still craves the “utopic acceptance” outside of myself as Amirpour describes. Even though we know that this feeling likely won’t last forever for Stacey, seeing her stare directly into the camera while in this state of intoxicating euphoria is seductive.
But Stacey’s experience isn’t an invitation any more than it is a warning or a cautionary tale. By giving Stacey what she wants, even if it is only temporary, “The Outside,” forces us to look within ourselves and what we would do to fit in. Like Guillermo del Toro says in his introduction to “The Outside,” this short film forces us to reckon with “what we are, and what we are told we should be.”
Four episodes of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities are available to stream on Netflix now. Two new episodes will premiere each day through Friday, Oct. 28.