Guillermo del Toro opens Panos Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn’s “The Viewing” by talking about the age-old theory of the hunter becoming the hunted or a collector becoming the collected. Because the film follows four accomplished individuals, Charlotte (Charlyne Yi), Randall (Eric André), Landon (Steve Agee), and Targ (Michael Therriault), who are invited to a party being held by a wealthy recluse named Lionel Lassiter (Peter Weller). They are taken to his palatial home by a guy named Hector (Saad Siddiqui) in a shady-looking van. When the group tries to figure out why they’ve been invited, Hector essentially tells them to shut the hell up and listen to some synth music until they reach Lassiter’s house. Once they get to the desired destination, they are blown away by the architecture and design of the place. And by the time they do learn why they are there; they find themselves facing an otherworldly form of terror.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Is Lassiter Trying To Get Everyone Comfortable Or Encouraging Their Vices?
Before welcoming the guests, we see Doctor Zahra (Sofia Boutella) injecting some kind of drug into Lassiter. And while he gets high, Charlotte, Randall, Landon, and Targ get comfortable in the palace’s bright orange and psychedelic living room, whose walls are adorned by gold-plated AK-47s and various kinds of masks. The first thing that they notice is that their favorite beverages are available for consumption. That weirds them out because it’s the 70s, and everyone isn’t giving out intimate details about themselves on something called the internet. Randall and Targ make an interesting observation that, in addition to his favorite brand of tea, Randall also has a rare pack of cigarettes for him, even though he’s trying to quit. Targ wonders if the person who has gone to such a great extent to know about what the guests like to drink, they must also know that Randall is trying to quit smoking. So, that can mean this isn’t just about surprising these four individuals. It’s about lowering their walls.
Before they can wonder about that, Lassiter enters the room with the rarest whiskey ever and gets everybody talking about their professions. Charlotte is an astrophysicist, Randall is a musician, Landon is a writer, and Targ is a psychic. They talk about doing the best in their fields and dominating the profession or dominating the industry that handles the profession. When Randall finally smokes the cigarette and drinks the whiskey, it means that Lassiter has successfully lowered yet another wall. But why all this effort? Why not just drug them (like Landon jokingly assumes Lassiter is eventually going to do) and get on with it? Well, as far as I can tell, Lassiter genuinely enjoys knowing his meal before eating it. Also, because it makes for great cinema. We, the viewers, get to soak in the film’s hypnotic production design, all of which is captured so intricately by cinematographer Michael Ragen and Panos. We get to vibe to Daniel Lopatin’s amazing music. And we get to hear well-written scenes of dialogue being executed by such talented actors.
Why Is The Cocaine Necessary To Enter The Next Stage Of Lassiter’s Meeting?
The guests turn the spotlight on Lassiter, asking him about the palace’s architecture, the music that’s constantly playing, and, of course, the source of his income. While the answer to the first two boils down to “I am rich, and I can get anything, and that’s why I get it,” Lassiter does reveal that he invested in uranium before World War II. That’s exactly when Zahra starts to pass the weed, as if she’s trying to ensure the conversation is about the guests and not about Lassiter. Don’t believe me? As soon as Randall gets a little existential, Landon starts to question Lassiter’s voting preferences, and both Charlotte and Targ push Lassiter into revealing the truths of the world (that he knows of); he shifts the spotlight to Zahra. Since she starts talking about the duality of Muammar Gaddafi, the conversation becomes less about Lassiter and more about our perception of public figures. After that, Zahra whips out the cocaine, which is then laced with a compound made by her. Once they are high out of their minds, Lassiter takes them to a room that has a meteorite-like rock in it.
Everyone’s apprehension about trying the cocaine pretty much proves that it’s not some special meeting where Lassiter has chosen a bunch of people to boost their careers. He is literally toying with them and prepping them for the inevitable. Consuming cocaine (which is addictive and extremely harmful in nature) means that they’ve completely submitted to Lassiter’s whims, and they’ll eventually be incapable of thinking logically. While watching Panos’s feature film “Mandy,” I had said that it’s one of those movies that will make you feel delirious without drinking a single drop of alcohol or consuming any kind of drugs. With “The Viewing,” he continues to extend his ability to mess with the human senses through the power of filmmaking. I can’t even begin to explain the kind of kick I got from seeing those chromatic aberrations when the light source hit the meteor. That star-shaped radiance was very common in movies from the ’80s, especially in fantasy films like “Excalibur.” And it’s great to see a modern filmmaker understanding the hypnotism of that look and utilizing it in such a masterful fashion. I’m not saying that more films should emulate this. But they should definitely learn how to give the audience a subjective experience from Panos Cosmatos.
‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ Episode 7 ‘The Viewing’ Ending Explained: Did Lassiter Sacrifice His Guests To The Alien Blob?
Long story short, Randall lights a joint in the “Obelisk Chamber,” and that causes the alien residing inside the meteor to come out and melt the faces of those standing close to it, i.e., Landon, Targ, and Zahra. Then the blob takes over Lassiter’s body and kills Hector. Randall and Charlotte barely make it out alive, and the monster uses a sewer pipe to get into the city to wreak havoc. Now, the ending can mean one of two things. One, this was Lassiter’s plan all along. He wanted these individuals to be free of their inhibitions and do the most random things ever around the meteorite to activate it. He probably didn’t know what was going to trigger it or what was going to come out of it. But there’s a possibility that he wanted this to happen. Two, he didn’t know anything about the meteor and was simply trying to impress these guests. He knew it was his most prized possession and that by blowing his guests’ minds with it (not literally), they’d be indebted to him, thereby increasing his collection. However, Lassiter ended up being the worst version of himself, i.e., an incomprehensible blob of mass devoid of any sophistication and only capable of destroying things instead of acquiring them.
“Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities” has emphasized the importance of merging visual effects and special effects instead of doing everything in the post-production phase and doing nothing in-camera. And by taking a page out of “Scanners,” “The Blob,” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Panos Cosmatos has given us the best head-explosion, the best face-melting sequence, and the best gooey monster I’ve seen in recent years. More importantly, “The Viewing” shows us that a well-written script can do a lot of the heavy lifting in sci-fi, even if it has more conversation scenes than visually epic scenes. The best example of that which comes to my mind is the 2007 film, “The Man from Earth.” That movie doesn’t have anything going for it visually. Jerome Bixby’s script does all the magic. Aaron Stewart-Ahn’s writing has a similar effect. It’s hardly noticeable when he switches from making random observations about the premise via the characters to mind-boggling theories about what humans crave and whether or not that craving is insatiable. That definitely helps the actors define who they are in such a short amount of time and makes us want to watch more of them.
In fact, that’s the only piece of critique I have against “The Viewing.” As soon as the credits rolled, I wondered why this wasn’t a 2-hour long feature film. Because when the Blob Man began to trudge toward the city, it felt like the narrative had only reached its midway point. And we were going to see the monster inflict all kinds of horror upon innocent citizens, thereby making it a full-blown homage to creature features from the ’80s. In that brief moment of carnage, the film personified the real destructive nature of the affluent. Seeing that commentary written across an entire city with the bodies of those who champion and idolize the wealthy would’ve been truly epic. I am glad that we got what we got. The visuals and conversations from the film are going to swirl around in my brain for days. I am just saying that I wanted more, which in and of itself is a win for Panos Cosmatos, Aaron Stewart-Ahn, and everyone who has worked on “The Viewing.”