When Cabinet Of Curiosities was first announced, I eagerly cast an eye of the director list to see who Guillermo Del Toro had selected to helm the eight episodes and while there was the expected selection of the unexpected there was one name that stood out. Panos Cosmatos made quite the splash in 2018 with deranged, hallucinogenic blowout Mandy, a cinematic experience I still maintain is still one of the best of the entire decade, so imagine how much I started salivating when I saw his name slated to tackle an episode. Del Toro collaborating on a project? On Netflix? The mind fucking boggles, which, coincidentally, is exactly the result I hoped their union would provoke.
Well, I got my wish, people – because The Viewing is an awsome, drug laden trip into Lovecraftian cosmic horror where plot, reason and conventions melt away like some of the poor unfortunates who fail to make it to the end credits that confounds as much as it enthralls.
Notoriously wealthy reclusive type, Lionel Lassiter, has broken cover and sent out invitations to four disparate masters of their field to visit his eccentric abode, The Sandpiper House, for mysterious purposes. The quartet are made up of blunt, best selling author, Guy Landon; revered, envelope pushing musician, Randall Roth; prissy, poncho wearing psychic, Targ Reinhart and, most tellingly, Charlotte Xie, a mousey physicist specializing in the study of alien life forms. Delivered to Lassiter’s home they are greeted by their far-out host who already has an intricate cocktail of mind-altering barbiturates coursing through his system courtesy of his physician, the enigmatic Dr. Zahra and the evening commences as the group discover that small talk is one aspect of life that Lionel doesn’t do business with.
In amongst discussions about architecture, the personal soundtrack Lasstier has had exclusively written to score his existence and the revelation that Zahra was once also the private physician of Colonal Gaddafi (?), the evening is kicked into high gear when the guests are persuaded to partake in numerous drugs in order to get them all on the same wavelength in order to view the reason they’ve been invited.
In a special room lies a large, ominous looking, meteor-style rock that positively buzzes with otherworldly energy and psychic aura, but when Randall blows some of his weed on the thing it reacts in a way none of them could possibly hope to predict.
Cracking open it’s hard shell to reveal that gooey, cosmic horror-inducing centre, the on-lookers look on as the creepy rock reveals it’s secrets to alarming, body melting effect.
For those unaware or immune to Panos Cosmatos’ distinct style, the best way to describe The Viewing is as if 1982 David Cronenberg and 2022 David Cronenberg somehow merged thanks to a tear in space and time and their fused consciousness promptly buggered off to possess Nicolas Winding Refn to make a fucked up tale of Lovecraftian goobledy-gook. Less a traditional story with a decisive end and more of an edgy outpouring of drug altered tone, you won’t why anything is going on, but then in Cosmatos’ world, why is a red-headed stepchild compared to what.
Essentially the whole episode is styled to take the form of a spiralling bad trip that’s been unleashed on someone utterly unfamiliar with having one. The early ice breaking hint at the nervousness at the start with the initial trepidation being personified by Randall reluctantly partaking after a hinted at addiction – but as the evening commences, the conversation gradually gets breezier and more conceptual before first giving way to rapturous curiosity and then degenerating into full blown FTW-ness.
Keeping with the whacked out tone, Cosmatos populates his episode with an enticingly abnormal cast led by Peter Weller who is no stranger to this trippy shit thanks to being surrounded by Mugwumps and insect typewriters in Naked Lunch. Weller’s distinctive and commanding drone was simply born to intone dialogue in a Cosmatos gig as lines like “I have seen things that will make you shit your mind, kemosabe.” eminate from his harsh bone structure inbetween him monologuing about the storied history of rare bottle of Japanese wiskey or pressuring his guests to get massively fucked off their nut.
The rest of the juicy cast contains stand up comedian Eric André, Kingsmen’s Sofia Boutella, Peacemaker’s Steve Agee, Steven Universe’s Charlyne Yi and – featuring an English accent so clipped it could strip paint – Chucky’s Michael Therriault and the sheer randomness of this group adds to the unhinged atmosphere even more.
Of course, the true star of a Cosmatos flick is, unsurprisingly, Cosmatos himself, or to be more exact, the majestically unsettling style he demonstrated in Mandy and his debut, Beyond The Black Rainbow. From the stunning production design that sees Lassiter’s greeting room adorned with gold plated machine guns to the meteorite that looks alarmingly like the carapase of one of those giant-ass beetles from The Dark Crystal, this is easily the most distinctive looking episode of the entire season thus far and a rousing change of pace to all the rather gothic themed episodes that’s almost been an exclusive output of the show overall. Driving synths rattle the ear drums as a glittering haze lays across the screen that gives everything a heightened sense of realism (speeding cars are even followed by Akira style light trails, for that extra dollop of dreaminess), but after that space rock hatches and the tentacled/horned/whatever lifeform inside wreaks its Arc Of The Covenant style whammy on the horrified onlookers, we dive full into nightmare territory as faces melt, heads explode and one unlucky recipient becomes a host for the undulating creature (that vaguely looks like someone skinned the Nemesis from Resident Evil alive) as it stalks off during the uncertain ending.
“If your ever going to do cocaine in your life, now’s the time.” Utters Boutella’s smoldering physician at one point in proceedings, but if you want to save yourself some money and spare your nasal passages, then Cosmatos’ berserk, gonzo, alien infested drugged up freak out is a fine substitute – just don’t except any mundane features like logic, reality or a coherent ending to fuck up your high.