The Viewing

The Viewing ★★★★½

Wow. That was my first reaction as the credits rolled on Panos Cosmatos' Mandy, and it was my reaction when I finished The Viewing: the seventh hour-long installment of Guillermo del Toro's anthology Cabinet of Curiosities. Costmatos direction here is so effective not just because he is a master image maker, but because he is a master of atmosphere. Thus, The Viewer drenches you in an hour of neon lighing and populist philosophy that wears its influences clearly, yet still feels utterly singular

The premise here is decidedly simple: enigmatic billionaire Randall Roth (Peter Weller) invites a collection of unusual and prestigious characters to his house for a 'special viewing'. This includes an alien-enthusiast physicist, a best-selling author, an acclaimed music producer and a notorious psychic. The majority of the runtime is simply the curious and intriguing flow of the conversation between these individuals, with the standout of a strong cast (inexplicably including an effective Eric Andre) definitely being Peter Weller. Cosmatos' and Aaron Stewart-Ahn's is screenplay really impressive here in how it manages to both capture the natural flow of a prolonged conversation while also using the subtle details of the dialogue to establish the contours of our characters. The evolution of this conversation is fascinating in its own right, but with an undercurrent of unease that gradually builds as we're seduced into the world of The Viewing. Then, of course, the final third becomes something of a truly unnerving scope.

Visually, The Viewing is just stunning. Set in 1979, Cosmatos drenches proceedings in the pulpy lighting of the night: fluorescent oranges and crimson reds. What's most impressive here is that despite taking place largely in just one location, the production and brutalist set design is so rich and detailed that it never loses its charm. Furthermore, the cinematography is attuned to this richness and sensibly takes a back seat for the majority of proceedings; Cosmatos largely limits his flourishes to the odd lens flare. Slow, seductive twirling motions frame the circularity of the room and the conversation without overwhelming the audience. In these guarded conversational exchanges, evocative and lingering close-ups emphasize critical moments. When combined with the excellent synth ruminations of Daniel Lopatin's score, the result is that you are truly immersed in the pulpy pulse of Cosmatos' creation.

Cosmatos also truly understands the format; ignore any critics saying this amounts to his third feature-length film. Instead, Cosmatos combines the one-hour anthology runtime with an incredible amount of atmosphere and unnerving, unanswered questions that leave you both wanting more but feeling satisfied as the credit rolls. In a world where the lines are increasingly blurred between film and TV, it's refreshing to see someone who is clearly familiar with what the unique strengths of anthology horror TV are. To this point: the ending of The Viewing may frustrate some in how it only teases the consequences of the evil within. But leaving you with lingering questions rather than easy answers is just what effective anthology horror does. Thus, The Viewing is not just easily the best of the mixed big that is The Cabinet of Curiosities - it's also the best horror I've seen all year.

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