A slightly disappointing take on H.P. Lovecraft’s tale but worth watching
Guillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities series of standalone horror stories on Netflix delivers two renditions of H.P. Lovecraft stories, including one of the more popular short stories, “Pickman’s Model.” Most Lovecraft renditions to film or television end up being almost unrecognizable, and in this case, we get more of the same – but still with some good performances and high production quality.
It is hard to find fault with the casting. All actors deliver solid performances and, Crispin Glover is a natural choice for Pickman. His accent at first seems a bit off until you realize that it should be a variation on a Bostonian accent. Ben Barnes as Thurber and Oriana Leman (as Thurber’s wife) both provide very good performances.
A Different Tale
The original short story begins with Thurber explaining his fear of being underground to his friend Eliot over coffee, by recounting his tale about Richard Upton Pickman and a terrible revelation as a result viewing one of Pickman’s works in Pickman’s secret art studio. Thurber is, as with many Lovecraftian protagonists, a rational, well educated materialist and someone whom you would not expect to perpetuate a hoax. Only at the end of the story do we understand why Thurber finally breaks.
The Netflix version sticks to Thurber, in a sequence in which Thurber meets Pickman and becomes fascinated with his work, but also psychologically twisted by viewing it. He nearly loses his fiancee and his upper class future because of his hallucinations. After parting ways with Pickman, the story continues years later after Pickman’s work shows up for potential showing at the museum that Thurber manages, and Thurber much older, grayer, married and a parent.
Even after Thurber’s wife has an animated and friendly conversation with Pickman as the group dines together and, Pickman even speaks kindly about Thurber’s son, there is no sign of any friendship at all on the side of Thurber.
Thurber is if anything, the antagonist of the show, and arguably at the end, the villain. The end could arguably be a delusion from Thurber’s final break in Pickman’s art studio.
Still Worth Watching
This isn’t a sexed up or modern reinterpretation for a modern setting, but it is more of a cherry picking of elements from the story to make something else.
One aspect of this production that impressed me was the method to depict the works of Pickman himself through animation effects.
Although Thurber’s fiancee and later wife comes across as a bit stronger than you might expect, the Netflix version doesn’t suffer from presentism, such as in HBO’s Lovecraft Country.
Is it worth an hour of your time? Certainly. If you are a reader of Lovecraft, this won’t leave you thinking you’ve seen the best possible depiction of the original story, but it is entertaining.