Scares and a Happy Ending from Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (2022)

Guillermo del Toro has put his name in the titles of two Netflix projects, and early reviews suggest that the self-assuredness is justified. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, codirected with stop-motion wizard Mark Gustafson (Fantastic Mr. Fox), is the latest of dozens of adaptations of Carlo Collodi’s 1883 children’s novel. It premiered in London earlier this month, heads to theaters next month, and will land on Netflix in December. The streamer has been rolling out Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, a horror anthology of eight hourlong episodes, at a rate of two episodes a night since Tuesday.

Del Toro has handpicked eight directors to oversee what essentially amount to standalone mid-length features. The lineup is “something less than the murderer’s row assembled in 2005 for Showtime’s similarly conceived project Masters of Horror, which boasted entries by the all-timers Tobe Hooper, Joe Dante, Larry Cohen, and a semi-retired John Carpenter,” finds Adam Nayman, who is, so far, the least impressed of all of Cabinet’s reviewers.

Writing for the New Yorker, Nayman points out that with the exception of Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), “none of the filmmakers on hand is associated with the amorphous yet ubiquitous movement of younger filmmakers defined (and maligned) under the heading ‘elevated horror.’ Nor does del Toro seem to have reached out to the ‘mumble-gore’ cohort showcased in the found-footage franchise V/H/S.Cabinet’s directors “are, like del Toro, middle-aged filmmakers who came up in the aftermath of the genre’s post-Scream ironization and mostly held the line against the aughts’ onslaught of torture porn. They are, by and large, steady hands.”

Guillermo Navarro, who has directed six episodes of Hannibal and worked as a cinematographer with del Toro, Quentin Tarantino, and Robert Rodriguez, opens the series with Lot 36. Tim Blake Nelson plays an ultraconservative war veteran who makes ends meet by selling abandoned storage units. “I believe that Guillermo’s reverence for horror is so deep that it’s no longer horror,” Nelson tells Chris Vognar in the New York Times. “You’re dealing with someone who’s able to see the macabre as reality, not fear-driven fantasy. You no longer think of it as occult or genre; you think of it as reality, and that makes it all the more terrifying.”

Graveyard Rats, directed by Vincenzo Natali (Cube), is a story of stealing from the dead told “with zest and imagination,” finds David Cairns. “The tone is black comedy with a lot of sadism—it made me realize that viciously tormenting your protagonist is weirdly more acceptable if he’s undeserving.” Introducing his interview with David Prior (The Empty Man) for IndieWire, Steve Greene writes that The Autopsy, starring F. Murray Abraham as a forensic pathologist, “marries the technical craft of unsettling audiences (split fingernails! corpses in bags covered in insects!) with heady thematic ideas about what life is worth and how to spend it.”

The Outside, directed by Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), features Kate Micucci as a bank teller whose skin lotion seems to be eating her face away. “Amirpour clearly understands that the story’s feminist critique is not exactly mind-blowing, so she elevates the material by having a total blast with it,” writes Time’s Judy Berman. Keith Thomas (Firestarter) and Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) direct episodes based on short stories by H. P. Lovecraft, while Panos Cosmatos has cowritten an original story with his Mandy collaborator Aaron Stewart-Ahn. “The slowest of burns, The Viewing—which Cosmatos has said was inspired by Scooby-Doo—is more about mood than plot,” writes Berman. “That being said, the denouement is bonkers, and the final shot might just break your brain.”

“Perhaps the most significant deviation from the pack is the least scary but most haunting entry,” writes Leila Latif in the Guardian. Jennifer Kent’s The Murmuring is “a mournful tale of a pair of ornithologists retreating to a secluded home to research bird migrations and recover from a terrible loss. The piece has all the gentle sorrow of Kent’s work and the tragedy of del Toro’s orphanage horror The Devil’s Backbone.

That 2001 feature was set in Spain in 1939, the year that Franco’s Nationalists took over the country. In Pinocchio, del Toro and cowriters Patrick McHale and Matthew Robbins tell the story of the puppet brought to life by the Wood Sprite (Tilda Swinton) against the backdrop of Mussolini’s Italy. The 1940 Pinocchio is one of Disney’s most disturbing animated features, but del Toro’s “notably peculiar, frightening animation feels more in line with Collodi’s imagination than most previous iterations,” writes Guy Lodge for Variety, adding that “there’s a dark, violent sense of consequence to this one, a healthy sense of grotesquerie, that makes its happy ending—yes, that’s still on the cards, but not exactly as you’d expect—feel hard-earned.”

“From the supernatural creatures with uncanny peepers scattered about their bodies—like one of the most famous monsters in Pan’s Labyrinth with eyes in its hands—to the carnival settings that recall his last feature, Nightmare Alley, and the watery realms echoing The Shape of Water and other back-catalogue efforts, the film sometimes plays like a greatest hits album of del Toro tropes,” finds the Hollywood Reporter’s Leslie Felperin. Pinocchio is a “strange film, in whose intricate chambers del Toro’s career-long obsessions have gathered,” writes Josh Wise at Slant. “If del Toro is a master of monsters, it’s in part because he inspects their aberrations—the fangs, the claws, the curled horns—with a sympathetic eye, and presents them as outcrops of human frailty.”

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