This review contains spoilers for Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: “The Viewing”
If you’ve seen Panos Cosmatos’ films Beyond the Black Rainbow and Mandy, you might have already had an idea of what you were in for before you hit play on his Cabinet of Curiosities installment, “The Viewing,” and that’s a wild, surreal ride with you in the passenger seat and no seatbelt. Cosmatos continues to speed down this particular genre avenue, and its one that has intoxicated his burgeoning fan base as the director always puts such a distinctive visual and aural stamp on his projects. There’ll be a woozy atmosphere hogging a fairly straightforward plot, dialogue just vague enough for your confusion to linger throughout, and a retro, claustrophobic and saturated color palette that makes you feel like you’re constantly trying to outrun something bad in a nightmare.
Incredibly, Cosmatos is able to bring all his magic tricks to “The Viewing,” even in this sub-feature length environment. The episode is a slow, stressful burn as the story gathers together a gaggle of unwitting-but-curious individuals at the stylish mansion of a wealthy recluse to view a very specific item in his collection during 1979’s summer dregs. But it can’t be that simple, because we’re in a Cosmatos joint with his Mandy co-writer Aaron Stewart-Ahn also behind the curtain. Before the gang get to see the curiosity itself, Lassiter insists on taking them deeper with the help of his mysterious drug guru (Sofia Boutella).
So, for a while, we get to know astrophysicist Charlotte (Charlyne Yi), a cheerful little geek who drives like Dom Toretto, Targ (Michael Therriault), an insufferable “psychic” who claims he saw much of this coming, Randall (Eric André), a famed record producer battling a long history of addiction, and brash novelist Guy (Steve Agee), who sells more books “than corn dogs at a county fair,” as the episode’s terrific electronic score dips in and out and Netflix delightfully adds “warbling” or “unsettling synth music playing” to the closed captions for anyone who might not be quite clear on the vibe here.
Then of course there’s the star they’re all revolving around, Lionel Lassiter (former Robocop Peter Weller at the height of his lens-eating David Carradine in Kill Bill era), a collector of unique pieces who hopes that with the group’s combined experience of the known and unknown, they can figure out what the hell to do with his latest, striking acquisition – a big, weird-ass alien rock thing. How can they achieve this? Not just with their keen wits and superior knowledge. Nah, they’ve got to get completely loaded on the finest liquor and narcotics known to man. Only THEN can they possibly hope to unwrap the mystery of said weird-ass rock.
The gambit probably makes total sense if you’re a highly intoxicated and ridiculously rich white man who treats people like objects, but it sure doesn’t end well for most of the characters onscreen in “The Viewing,” though god help them they are absolutely willing to give it a shot, downing drinks, snorting coke, and smoking enough weed to sedate a mid-sized bear in a bid to keep Lassiter sweet during the occasion, and it’s said weed that proves to be the unlikely answer to his conundrum, as Randall, wildly falling off the wagon in under an hour, accidentally gives the rock a drag of the good stuff and awakens an alien monster inside that soon seeks a body to manifest properly. The rock was just the head of the beast, it turns out, and it slowly gloops its way to victory by absorbing a hilariously out-of-his-depth Lassiter and slumping towards the nearest city to dish out some body horror chaos.
“The Viewing” is just a great time, especially if you’re already a fan of Cosmatos’ special brand of horror, but probably for an unsuspecting younger audience raised on the almost twee by comparison nostalgia glut at Netflix, too. You can’t tell me that “let’s do a shitload of coke and handle Vecna” wouldn’t have been a superior conclusion to Stranger Things’ tediously drawn out fourth season!
Regardless, the installment is easily in Cabinet of Curiosities’ top tier, and one of the best ways to spend an hour of spooky season or any season for that matter, landing somewhere in the landscape between Raiders of the Lost Ark (Nazi face melting scene enthusiasts rise up), Psycho Goreman, and From Beyond, and quite simply pushing the boundaries of what a single entry into a horror anthology series can achieve when an emerging genre master with a singular vision is at the helm.
All eight episodes of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities are available to stream on Netflix now.