Guillermo del Toro gives us a little insight into H.P. Lovecraft and how he used to fear the universe. Apparently, he compared it to a haunted house that’s full of cosmic shenanigans where each door can lead to new realities, dreams, and nightmares. All one needs is a key to access them. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, written by Mika Watkins, and based on Lovecraft’s short story, “Dreams in the Witch House,” primarily follows the Gilman twins. A young Walter Gilman (Gavin MacIver-Wright) watches his sister, Epperley Gilman (Daphne Hoskins), die before his very eyes. But she reappears as a ghost before him and subsequently gets dragged away into the nearby forest. The narrative jumps forward to a much older Walter (Rupert Grint), who evidently spends his days running after self-proclaimed witches, mediums, and practically anyone who is in touch with the supernatural. His friend (Ismael Cruz Cordova) and colleague at the Spiritualist Society assist him on his escapades. However, after hitting one dead end after another, he wishes to take a job at Time magazine. So, Walter decides to go solo and seek out the witch called Keziah Mason (Lize Johnston).
Major Spoilers Ahead
How Does Walter Come Across Keziah Mason?
At the Spiritualist Society, Walter overhears some talk about Keziah between Mr. Labuschagne (Tom Rooney), Mariana (Tenika Davis), and Sister Lucretia (Diane Johnstone). Mariana is a painter who lives in Keziah Mason’s house and creates these paintings based on her visions. And while Labuschagne keeps them because Mariana keeps insisting on him doing so, Sister Lucretia forbids Mariana from ever meeting her. For the time being, Walter and Labuschagne table that discussion and talk about the fact that the Spiritualist Society is on the brink of being shut down because, well, it’s not a financially viable endeavor. At his second job, which is that of a bartender, Walter again overhears some conversation between two Native American men about traveling to another dimension. Once they’re convinced that he really wants to retrieve Epperley from the forest of lost souls, they give him a drug called “liquid gold,” which allows him to briefly meet his sister in the forest of lost souls. He goes into this alternate dimension a second time to literally drag Epperley into reality. But all he gets is a portion of the sleeve torn from her gown and a glimpse of the painting that Mariana gave to Labuschagne. Using these as clues, he starts to read about Keziah Mason and her ability to travel through dimensions with the use of a key (that looks like a wand).
“Dreams in the Witch House” is very obviously about the inability to deal with the death of a loved one. Of course, different people have different ways of mourning the dead. But it’s important to process it and get back to your life. Yes, it’s not going to be the same as it was before. However, it’s not exactly productive (and I’m not talking in financial terms only but health-wise as well) to drown yourself in sorrow and misery. Earlier, I used to say “move on” a lot. After watching an interview with Andrew Garfield, where he talked about dealing with the loss of his mother, I understood that grief isn’t something that you can compartmentalize. It stays with you because grief is an extension of the love you’ll always have for that person. Since then, I’ve stopped telling everyone to try and move on because the more comforting thing to do is to let their memory stay with you while you go about your day. This practice does come with the fear that the moment you stop feeling that grief, the memory of that person is going to be erased. And it seems like Walter here is letting that fear overpower his love for Epperley.
Why Does Keziah Mason Want Walter’s Soul?
When Labuschagne learns that Walter has been consuming drugs to get proof of the supernatural, he fires him from the Spiritualist Society and tells him to return only when he’s sober. Walter moves away to Keziah Mason’s haunted house to search for that key that’ll lead him to the dimension in which Epperley is apparently trapped. During his time there, he’s haunted by a rat with the face of a human named Jenkins Brown (DJ Qualls) and the spirit of Keziah Mason. And although they scare the living hell out of Walter, he finds out that a pair of twins is essential to finding this key. But since Keziah’s spirit already has the wand-esque key, I am guessing the inscription means that a pair of twins is the key to traveling from one dimension to another. Not necessarily for the twins involved, but for the person who wants to use them to do interdimensional traveling. With that assumption in his mind, Walter ingests the liquid gold again and brings back Epperley’s spirit to the world. This irks Keziah Mason because her plan, as explained by Mariana (with the help of her paintings), was to sacrifice Walter in order to regain her place in the world of the living (and then seek revenge against those who burned her during the Salem witch trials, maybe).
This revelation brings an end to the second act of “Dreams in the Witch House,” and with it comes the realization that something is really off about the film. The production design, costume design, and set design are immaculate. The make-up work around Keziah Mason (BTW, the actress behind it, Lize Johnston, is also Dottie in “Lot 36” and the Lotion Woman in “The Outside”) is jaw-dropping. The visual effects, CGI, and special effects are top-notch. Jenkins Brown reminds me of the dog with the man’s face in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” but in a good way. The cinematography and editing are great. But it’s the direction, performances, and writing where things become shaky. The actors are doing their best to make their characters feel real, especially Rupert Grint. However, neither their desperation nor their sorrow translates to the screen in an organic fashion. It always seems like they are waiting for their cues instead of living and breathing as their characters. That’s in large part due to the expository nature of the dialogue. They just spew information, most of which we already know about or don’t need to know about. They don’t talk like people do. And that’s what hampers the film’s emotional connection.
‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ Episode 6′ Dreams in the Witch House” Ending Explained: Was Jenkins Brown The Mastermind All Along?
For the climactic battle with Keziah Mason, the scenery changes to the church, which is headed by Sister Lucretia, because Walter and Mariana think that she’s the one who can help them. But Keziah ends up being too powerful for Lucretia or the house of God as she shatters the church’s windows and kills her in the process. Then she drags Walter back into her house and prepares to stab him with her key/wand. Epperley, who was nowhere to be seen for no reason, appears at the opportune moment and stabs Keziah with her key. That does kill Keziah, but it also forces Epperley to go back into the world of the dead (you know because they are bound in a magical circle of sorts). Just when it seems like things are over, Mariana’s painting comes true, and Walter dies. And then, much like the chestburster scene from “Alien,” Jenkins Brown emerges from Walter’s chest, thereby confirming that he’s the one who was planning to cross over to the world of the living all this time. Later on, he possesses Walter’s body and proclaims that he’s going to use this vessel as long as it’s going to last.
The ending of “Dreams in the Witch House” can be seen in two ways. One is the theory that Jenkins was the mastermind all along, and he was simply using Keziah as a pawn to rope in the sad and depressed Walter into the mix and then take his place in the world of the living. Why? Well, by the looks of it, his spiritual form doesn’t possess a lot of powers. Whereas the tortured spirit of Keziah is incredibly powerful. As for how he convinced Keziah to do his bidding, I think he straight-up lied to her that at the end of this laborious and convoluted ordeal, she was going to be the one to become alive. That motivated her to put her spirit on the line while Jenkins watched from the sidelines. When the deed was done, his plan came to fruition. That theory, though, goes to show that even in death, Keziah was betrayed and used for someone else’s nefarious plans. The second theory is that it’s all a metaphor for Walter’s psychological transformation. The old Walter goes through a violent episode and dies. When the sun rises, his new, improved, and slightly malevolent version emerges. A movie aiming for a happier ending would’ve skipped the “rat wearing a man’s body” part and go straight to the resurrection. But since this is a mean film, it goes for a morbid conclusion.
With all that said, “Dreams in the Witch House” is probably the weakest of the anthology films in “Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.” The bad writing, unassured direction, and unconvincing performances really spike up in the last act of the film. Hardwicke tries to go for this big, bombastic, and emotionally stirring ending with a nasty anti-climax. But everything about it is so awkward that all the bad aspects that have been accumulating throughout its runtime just explode all over the screen. Well, despite all that, the film doubles up as an unintentional (or maybe it is very intentional) “Harry Potter” joke. For the uninitiated, in the “Harry Potter” franchise, Ron Weasley (played by Rupert Grint) had a rat named Scabbers for 12 years (which is unusual for a rat). During the third semester at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Ron learned that Scabbers was actually a wizard in disguise, named Peter Pettigrew (Timothy Spall). And he wasn’t just any wizard, but the one accused of betraying Lily and James Potter and the one responsible for the resurrection of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). So, you can say that even after saying goodbye to Ron Weasley a decade ago, Rupert Grint still can’t get rid of evil rats.