Guillermo del Toro is one of the most fascinating and respected filmmakers working today, with six Academy Award nominations to his name and two wins, both for 2018's The Shape of Water. He's also the latest high-profile talent to be poached by streaming service Netflix, which is distributing his acclaimed stop-motion Pinocchio film (not to be confused with this year's much-maligned Disney remake), as well as this enjoyable anthology of creepy stories.
Notably, del Toro did not direct any of the entries in Cabinet of Curiosities (although he is credited as co-writer on the first episode), instead acting primarily as curator of this macabre collection. At the start of each episode, he steps out to introduce the story with a short monologue given besides the titular piece of ornate furniture, which is as intricately designed as you would expect from a filmmaker who has always relished in the details.
The format pays homage to classics like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone (though his lesser known Night Gallery is perhaps a closer comparison) and it's just as potent now as it was all those decades ago. Del Toro's enthusiasm is palpable – putting a smile on my face during every opener – and it's clear that real care has been taken in deciding which stories to feature in this first season.
While each one is completely distinct – encompassing different settings, spooks and themes – there are stylistic similarities that stay true to the director-turned-host's delicately constructed brand. Most noticeable is the use of stunning practical effects throughout, relied on to create a line-up of terrifying monsters and some truly visceral gory moments, both of which are a hallmark of del Toro's filmmaking from Hellboy to Pan's Labyrinth and The Shape of Water.
Every world visited across these eight episodes also feels authentic and lived-in. There's history in these walls, corridors, paintings, trinkets and tunnels, which emanates from the screen, even when it isn't fully explored. This is another trait of del Toro's which is captured faithfully by a sturdy line-up of directors, including longtime collaborator Guillermo Navarro as well as horror maestros Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Panos Cosmatos (Mandy) and Vincenzo Natali (Cube).
The Cabinet of Curiosities cast is equally compelling. Highlights from the first four episodes include Kate Micucci as a suburban misfit and Dan Stevens as the beauty guru pledging to change her life, while F Murray Abraham is mesmerising as a veteran pathologist assigned to a mysterious death. On the other hand, David Hewlett is a bit too hammy for my taste in the second story, a period chiller titled Graveyard Rats.
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The big names don't stop coming, however, with Rupert Grint (Harry Potter), Ismael Cruz Córdova (The Rings of Power), Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead), Eric André (The Lion King) and Sofia Boutella (Kingsman) among the headliners in the second half.
Like everything Guillermo del Toro does, this feels like a passion project. Though he takes a step back from the director's chair on this occasion, his distinctive sensibilities are the artery through which these chilling tales flow (and sometimes burst out of). With interesting ideas, haunting visuals and memorable performances scattered across these eight offerings, this is a Halloween treat you'll definitely want more of.
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