'Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities' review: 'Lot 36' is a decent introduction

The first episode is based on a short story by the Mexican filmmaker

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Anything with Guillermo del Toro’s name attached to it is bound to draw interest.

The Oscar-winning Mexican director, known for fantasy films Pan’s Labyrinth and The Shape of Water, has a new horror anthology streaming on Netflix.

Titled Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities, it is a “collection of the Oscar-winning filmmaker's personally curated stories, described as both equally sophisticated and horrific”.

The first season features eight stand-alone episodes that are about an hour long. They are based on short stories with the first two episodes available to stream now. The remaining six in the anthology will come out two at a time with all the episodes released by Friday, just in time for Halloween.

CABINET OF CURIOSITIES EPISODE 1: LOT 36

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Tim Blake Nelson, Sebastian Roche, Elpidia Carrillo
Rating: 4/5

Each episode begins with the Pacific Rim director introducing it, sauntering out of the darkness to a chest of cabinets, pulling out an item related to the coming episode, as well as a miniature ivory figurine of each director, as a different one works on every episode.

Lot 36 is the first in the series and only one of two episodes based on a short story by del Toro, with a script penned by Regina Corrado and directed by Guillermo Navarro, an Oscar-winning cinematographer who has previously worked with del Toro.

It opens with a video speech by former US president George W Bush about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and also introduces the main character, Nick Appleton.

Tim Blake Nelson, left, and Sebastian Roche, in 'Lot 36'. Photo: Netflix

He's a military veteran and not a particularly likeable man as shown through his interactions with others, such as immigrants and people of colour. He seems miserable and is down on his luck while also owing a lot of money.

To make up for it, he buys storage units with the hope that he can strike rich through what’s inside. He wins an auction for Lot 36, which we learn belonged to a lonely old man, who eventually died of a heart attack.

After Nick purchases the storage unit, he’s shown video of the old man visiting the unit every single day, leaving something in it. The protagonist begins to explore and finds some items to be appraised, through which he learns more about the previous owner.

As a side story, Nick also purchases a storage unit belonging to a house cleaner named Emilia that is accidentally sold to him after a failed bill payment because of a miscommunication. She pleads with Nick to let her see her unit to retrieve her remaining things, but he refuses and only gives her the original padlock instead.

While we won’t spoil the episode, Lot 36 is a nice introduction to the anthology. It isn’t particularly scary, although there are a couple of good moments of tension (for example: the sketchy storage facility uses a light switch timer meaning scenes suddenly go dark when it runs out).

Lot 36 feels a bit more like The Twilight Zone with a cautionary tale, rather than one based on horror. However, thanks to the trailer that Netflix has already unveiled for the show, it seems as though darker and scarier episodes are still to come.

There’s a stellar line-up of names attached to this project, including Jennifer Kent, who directed and wrote 2014’s The Babadook, Ana Lily Amirpour of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (which was promoted as “the first Iranian vampire Western") and David Prior, writer and director of 2020’s The Empty Man. Coming episodes also feature Rupert Grint, Ben Barnes and Andrew Lincoln.

If Lot 36 is anything to go by, fans are in for a special treat.

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Updated: October 27, 2022, 10:20 AM
CABINET OF CURIOSITIES EPISODE 1: LOT 36

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Tim Blake Nelson, Sebastian Roche, Elpidia Carrillo
Rating: 4/5

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