Making a good scary movie or a TV show is essentially the same as making a sandwich. You take eerie music on one end, jump scares on the other, and slap a vague storyline in between. Of course, the thickness of the meat depends on how good the filmmaker is. Most of the time you end up with a boring grilled cheese. But sometimes you end up with gourmet stuff that lingers in your mouth even months after. Looking at you, Mike Flanagan and Ari Aster.
When Netflix announced its collaboration with Guillermo Del Toro for a horror anthology series, I was expecting a Michelin-starred meal. But what I left with was the experience of being on a roller-coaster that never dives to the bottom but also never really reaches the height I was expecting it to reach.
If the first four episodes of the series were actual cabinet compartments, I’d place “Lot 36” at the very bottom. Directed by Guillermo Navarro, an Oscar-winning cinematographer, and a frequent Del Toro collaborator, the episode stars Tim Blake Nelson as a cartoonishly unlikeable person, whom you are supposed to sympathize with. But don’t. And that’s where a majority of my problem lies. The writing itself leaves a lot to be desired with its undercooked plotline about a Satanic cult and vague Lovecraftian references thrown in between. Skip this one.
Next in line comes a story that directly seems to be inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s work. Adapted from Henry Kuttner’s short story and directed by Vincenzo Natali, Graveyard Rats is exactly what it sounds like, both in a literal and a metaphorical sense. We follow a grave robber who digs up wealthy corpses to loot, only to one day find something sinister lurking under the ground. The story is fun, well-paced, and well-acted. But is it scary? Only in passing. Although, we do recommend checking out the black-and-white version of the episode instead of the standard one.
The series dips again with its third episode The Autopsy directed by Vincenzo Natali, it tells the story of a coroner who discovers something strange while investigating the bodies of miners, who died after a bizarre accident. The theme here is isolation and dread, which it never quite delivers, even with a copious amount of body horror. Although, props should be given to F. Murray Abraham’s performance who elevates the script.
The fourth episode is a complete tonal change in a good way. Instead of a dark and brooding atmosphere, we’re rushed into a vibrant world of a…bank teller. The Outside stars Stacey (played brilliantly by Kate Micucci), a part-time taxidermist who longs to fit in with her colleagues but can’t. Until she finds Alo Glo, a magical lotion sold by very campy Dan Stevens through old-timey infomercials. Unlike the first three episodes, The Outside takes a more nuanced approach towards its “monster,” something which Black Mirror fans will like. This one deserves to be on the top shelf.
With the series now halfway done, I still have hopes that the ship will steer in a more interesting direction. But for now, it feels like every other underwhelming Netflix product with a big name attached to it.
Image credits: Netflix