Guillermo del Toro sets the stage by talking about how graveyards are home to things that are both pagan and holy. And that the soil contains both secrets and treasures. He says that for rodents that live beneath our feet, it doesn’t matter if an item is made of gold or wood, because it’s a source of nourishment for them. But for humans, wood can be their last resting place, while gold can help them achieve their dreams. “Cabinet Of Curiosities” Episode 2 “Graveyard Rats,” which is based on the short story by Henry Kuttner and written and directed by Vincenzo Natali, follows Masson (David Hewlett), who refers to himself as the steward of the garden of remembrance. In case you are confused about what he’s talking about, he’s actually referring to a cemetery. But his reverence towards the dead is fake because, after spewing empty platitudes at grave robbers, he robs said graves himself because that’s his primary source of money. Where does that lead him? Let’s find out.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Why Is Grave Robbery Masson’s Primary Source Of Employment?
The only thing that Masson is really good at is being a loudmouth. He can talk about how society is going to crumble and fall if people do not respect the dead and then proceeds to rob the dead. When he fails to get anything substantial, he can talk endlessly about the existence of grave robbing rats, Black Churches below Salem, and how his clinically diagnosed claustrophobia doesn’t allow him to dig further into this rabbit hole (or rathole). But since the person who allows Masson to run his cemetery business isn’t interested in his theories, he gives him one week to return with a substantial amount of money. Or else, he’ll find himself in one of the coffins in his own cemetery. So, he rushes to his coroner friend Dooley (Julian Richings) and finds out that he’s harboring a wealthy shipping merchant whose teeth are made of gold. However, when he finds out that he’s going to be buried with the saber gifted to him by King George, he postpones his plans as he sees an opportunity to rob more from the man after his burial.
Within the first 15 minutes, Natali does a fantastic job of establishing what kind of a person Masson is, what his central conflict is, and how he thinks he can solve his issues. Much like “Lot 36,” “Graveyard Rats” focuses on the lower class of society and the means they have to resort to in order to make a living. Hewlett does a fantastic job of painting a vivid picture of Masson, who is easy to hate because of his motormouth. But there’s an undercurrent of sadness to him since, as he aptly puts it, he is doing the best with the cards he has been dealt. Additionally, under the garb of a conspiracy theory centered around rats and satanic cults, Natali hints at the horrors that lie in Masson’s path to retribution (yes, religion plays a big part in this short film). However, before following that particular plot thread, he and his production designer, set designer, cinematographer, editor, sound designer, music composer, costume designer, SFX artists, and VFX artists seamlessly immerse us in the 1910s Salem and the depressive atmosphere that looms over the town.
Is Masson’s Theory About Rats Stealing Bodies Correct?
Masson prays to Jesus Christ to show him mercy and give him the chance to get to Winston’s (the merchant) coffin before the rats do. He even has a nightmare where the roof of his house caves in and rats start raining down upon him. Is it a premonition? Are the grave robbing rats a figment of his imagination and an excuse he uses for being bad at his job? Well, after conducting the last rites of the dead man he’s about to rob, he returns to the grave under the cover of darkness. And it turns out, the rats Masson keeps talking about are real and they do steal bodies. Not just that, Masson’s claustrophobia is pretty real too. That’s why he says a little prayer, sucks it up, and dives into the interconnected underground tunnels to look for Winston’s body and kill the rats. However, after getting attacked by a horde of rats, literally shooting himself in the foot while trying to kill a rat, and actually killing one of the rodents, he notices something ungodly: a rat that’s as big as Masson.
Since the overall tone of “Graveyard Rats” is darkly comedic, I think I can refer to that joke where people are asked if they are willing to fight 100 rat-sized humans or 1 human-sized rat. Because that’s exactly what crossed my mind when I saw that absolute unit of a rat. All jokes apart, the build-up to that reveal is incredible. If you suffer from claustrophobia, your breathing and heart rate are going to spike significantly. The way the camera moves through those tunnels and the angles that Natali uses to show the cramped pathways is way too realistic. And while it’s a smart choice to arm Masson with a torch so that it can serve as a source of light in those dark places, making Hewlett use that torch to illuminate his face is an inspired choice. Because actors usually don’t have to handle a scene’s lighting themselves so that they can focus solely on their performance. However, the choice works in the film’s favor because unmotivated lighting techniques would have broken the immersion and taken your focus away from Hewlett’s performance and towards the directorial decisions.
‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ Episode 2 “Graveyard Rats” Ending Explained: Is It The Rats Or Masson’s Greed That Kills Him?
If you think that the gigantic rat is the biggest reveal in the short film, you are so wrong. While trying to get away from said human-sized rat, Masson falls into one of the many tunnels leading away from the surface. And he reaches an underground church whose floor is filled with human skeletons. Masson’s greed kicks in as he sees that there’s jewelry around those skeletons (because the rats don’t eat jewelry) and the sword of King George lying there. After picking those up, he notices a deity (which has a tentacled face, wings on its back, and has four hands) on one side of the room and a devotee on the other. He does understand that it’s one of those Black Churches he was talking about. But then his attention goes to the golden pendant on the devotee’s neck. When he tries to steal it, the devotee wakes up and tries to take the pendant back. In his attempt to get away from it, Masson runs into the giant rat. Left with no other option, he triggers a landslide, which kills the rat and traps the zombie devotee.
Masson manages to get out of that landslide alive and climbs up to what he thinks is an exit. But it only turns out to be a shiny plaque reflecting his torchlight and the following words written on it: requiescat in pace (which means “may he/she rest in peace”). The film concludes with the grave robbers who were duped by Masson finding his body being eaten from the inside out by rats. And that poses an interesting question: what actually killed Masson? Was it the rats or Masson’s greed? Well, in case it isn’t obvious, Masson met his downfall due to his greed. He could’ve waited till Dooley wanted him to, taken the golden teeth, and delivered them to his employer. However, as soon as he heard that the dead man had more to offer, his fate was written and there was no way he could’ve escaped it. The gigantic rat, its minions, the zombie devotee, and the Black Church were merely a physical extension of purgatory (which is an apt analogy because of the constant religious imagery) he had dug himself into.
Now, we can go back and forth about what the tunnels and the creatures symbolize and whether Masson died when the roof fell on his head and the rest of the film is something that he’s imagining while his mind and body are dying underneath the rubble. But there’s no doubt about the fact that “Graveyard Rats” is an absolutely stunning piece of horror filmmaking. The mixture of practical effects and visual effects that are used to bring the gigantic rat and the zombie devotee to life is worthy of all the applause in the world. The same goes for the whole set design (unless Hewlett was in an actual maze of tunnels, which I am sure he was not) of the tunnels, the underground church, and even the rocks falling on Masson. It seems real and tangible. The physical presence of those things allows the VFX artists to use them as reference and then make any necessary changes to make the viewing experience better. And I’m so glad that del Toro and Natali are out there, pushing for a blend of SFX and VFX instead of solely relying on CGI and VFX. In addition to all that, as a fan of 1997’s “Cube”, it was so satisfying to see Natali, Hewlett, and Richings working together again.