Guillermo Del Toro's Cabinet Of Curiosities Got A Little Too Claustrophobic For David Hewlett

This post contains spoilers for episode 2 of "Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities."

After Guillermo del Toro sets up the premise for episode 2 of "Cabinet of Curiosities," titled "Graveyard Rats," the narrative follows a grave robber named Masson (David Hewlett) whose livelihood is endangered due to pesky rats. A horrifying tale about greed and hubris, Graveyard Rats" evokes anxiety and claustrophobia, especially when Masson crawls through narrow underground tunnels in which primordial forces lurk in the darkness. Hewlett, who is sublime as the con man who waxes poetic, struggled during the underground tunnel scenes, as it was a little too claustrophobic for his liking.

The episode director, Vincenzo Natali, recently spoke to Newsweek and recounted the experience of filming in crawl spaces, joking that he was "scarred for life." The "Cube" director also praised Hewlett's dedication to the uncomfortable scenes, as the role demanded a considerable level of physicality. Natali said:

"Then for David, [he] was such a courageous soul and worked so hard without complaint under very physically trying circumstances, I mean it's not easy to wiggle in there and he did it for 17 days or the better part of them."

This is no small feat, as Hewlett had to move around really compact crawl spaces while capturing the horror of being faced with a ginormous rat and being chased by a reanimated skeleton. The tunnels, along with the coffin in which Masson ultimately finds himself shut, were specifically designed and engineered for the episode by production designer Tamara Deverell and cinematographer Colin Hoult. The result is a spectacular, peculiar story about vengeful rodents and undead devotees that live within the caverns of the earth.

Using cramped spaces to elevate terror

Spatial awareness and geography are often used in horror to drive a metaphor home or evoke a certain effect, and Natali uses this deftly in "Graveyard Rats." The protagonist, Masson, is overwhelmed with debt and needs to find a quick way to earn money. Instead of looking for legal means of employment, he repeatedly exhumes corpses to rob them of their valuables and jumps into claustrophobic spaces despite his phobia of the same. Greed drives Masson at every turn, which also explains why he ventures into a musty, dangerous cavern where no human has ever ventured willingly.

The only source of light in the cavern scenes is the lamp held by Masson, which made it extremely tricky for Vitali and his team to get the lighting of these scenes right. Moreover, Masson also fights a mega-sized rat, which involves a lot of thrashing around within a small space. Even the coffin used at the end was designed to have removable sides, but the space inside was so compact that Hewlett and Natali had to improvise the ending sequence and its layered mechanics. Vitali went on to explain the challenges of filming in such areas that inhibit movement:

"In a small space, there's no room for anything, and literally in this episode, there was room for an actor and the light that he was holding, which was actually the light that was lighting him in the scene, and one camera, and that is much harder to work with.

Despite these challenges, Hewlett and Vitali were able to transport viewers into Masson's worldview, as the close-up shots and limited lighting elevate the horror of the protagonist's situation. In the end, "Graveyard Rats" manages to compel. 

"Cabinet of Curiosities" is currently streaming on Netflix.