Guillermo del Toro’s Room of Wonders: episodes 1/2

Normally in this period we would be on vacation, but this year we feel exceptionally generous and, in order not to leave you alone, we thought we would continue with a small special within reach of our recharging energies. While waiting to resume normal programming, we will therefore be ferried towards the new year by Guillermo Del Toro and his Room of Wondershorror anthology halfway between The Alfred Hitchcock Hour hey Tales from the Cryptrecently landed on Netflix: to you, in four parts, a brief review of all eight episodes.

EP. 1: Lot 36by Guillermo Navarro
(piece by Nanni Cobretti)

Tim Blake Nelson has a particular, unmistakable face.
One of those faces where you see them and say “Well, man, I don’t know what plans you have in life, I don’t know what goals you have as an actor, but you will be a character actor. Forget the rest. Don’t let it go to your head. You will never be a chameleon. You’ll be a character actor.”
And the character actor more or less did, Tim Blake Nelson. In the role of the idiot, the boor or both.
A good character actor, a guarantee, because Tim Blake Nelson is neither stupid nor boorish: on the contrary, he is a complete even rather pretentious author. Or rather, I haven’t seen anything of him, but damn it, take a tour on IMDb and read the plots. I remember his modern retelling of Othello, “OR“, at that time twenty years ago when modern versions of Shakespeare were the trend that was all the rage among teenagers, and I also vaguely remember that film where Edward Norton plays two twins, one cool and one stoner. The rest, my lady… moral dilemmas, mixed timelines, small provincial towns, Auschwitz… And maybe for you Tim Blake Nelson is just the stoned of Brother where are you?.
However: here is the boor.

Guillermo Del Toro entrusts the opening of his anthological series to a short story, written in his own hand, rather classic but always of great effect. The “Lot 36” of the title is a garage whose tenant (Elpidia Carrillo Of Predator!) is behind on payments, so the landlord evicts her and pitches him to Tim Blake Nelson. Which this time is not a stupid boor but a vicious boor. Not a genius, huh? But above all angry. And his arrogant rancor will lead him towards the apocalyptic bad luck.
As in the best short stories, construction is slow to outline the characters, build the subthemes of racial tension, greed and revenge, spend less money on special effects. He’s at the helm Guillermo Navarro, expert director of photography for Rodriguez and Del Toro since the 90s, but as far as directing is still in full apprehension made up of TV series episodes: here he continues with a solid homework, relying on the charisma of Tim Blake Nelson who drags, successfully, most of the proceedings. The supernatural moment, especially in stories that take such a run, is always at risk of disappointment: I found it instead nice and Lovecraftian to the right point. Not a fulminant start, but definitely solid and auspicious: the classic episode that if it represents the average is good news, if it represents the peak (as sometimes happens) it is bad.

EP. 2: The rats of the graveyardby Vincenzo Natali
(piece by Laurel Kubrick)

Vincenzo Natali he has been a bit lost for years now, to the point that it is legitimate to ask whether it is not the case to change the narrative about him and admit that he has never kept a tenth of the promises made with Cube. He has become one of those you call to direct one / two episodes of your series and then say goodbye; del Toro, for example, wanted it in 2015 for his The Strainand now reaches out to him once again, offering him the chance to do some Lovecraftian fan fiction in his Ground vase. The graveyard rats and literally Lovecraftian fan fiction, that particular category of Lovecraftian fan fiction which was approved and even encouraged by Lovecraft himself: Henry Kuttnerthe author of the short story on which this episode is based, was one of his circle, a group of fans who corresponded with him discussing ancient ocean gods and the despairing depths of the cosmos – strictly in writing only, because to Lovecraft the people didn’t like it.

The fact that Natali has become a service director can be seen a bit: The graveyard rats it’s simple, straight forward and based almost entirely on Kuttner’s story – with the exception of an additional monstrous creature which is also the best invention of the whole episode. It looks a bit like a Lovecraftian version of the forgotten Burke & Hare by John Landis, the story of a cemetery keeper who supplements his meager income by looting the corpses he buries, and who has a rat problem, but perhaps also of ancestral cults of sprawling gods and of tunnels that plunge underground to the center of the Earth. Natali maintains a vaguely ironic tone bordering on parody for the first fifteen/twenty minutes, then takes on his protagonist (an excellent David Hewlett), throws him into the aforementioned tunnels and shoots fifteen minutes of terror and claustrophobia showing what they have to without wasting time explaining anything.

The graveyard rats has the problem that if you know, I’m not saying the original story, but three cross stories by Lovecraft, or more generally the horror/pulp literature of the twenties/thirties of the last century, you won’t find anything surprising in it. It remains a fine exercise in style, a black comedy of rats and tentacles with a few moments of applause, which confirms the suspicion that Vincenzo Natali has, alas, found his dimension.

Guillermo del Toro’s Room of Wonders: episodes 1/2