Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities: Pickman's Model
November 1, 2022 8:43 AM - Season 1, Episode 5 - Subscribe

Art student Will meets introvert Richard, whose terrifying works of art begin to have a deeply disturbing effect on Will's sense of reality.

Directed by Keith Thomas and based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft and featuring Crispin Glover as the titular Richard Pickman. Ben Barnes stars as protagonist Will Thurber.
posted by asnider (10 comments total)
Despite some interesting scenes, decent special effects and entertaining (though not particularly scary) creature puppets, this one didn't quite do it for me.

Although I haven't read the short story it's based on, it really felt like one of those stories that is better when the visuals are left up to the imagination. The paintings that ultimately play havoc on Will's sanity and sense of reality, while gruesome, don't really seem like they'd create the sense of reality-warping, cosmic dread that we witness on screen.
posted by asnider at 8:48 AM on November 1, 2022 [1 favorite]

That's a fundamental problem with HPL. He likes to hint at the unnamable, which by definition, cannot be adequately described, let alone viewed. And we "moderns" have seen so many zombie movies, that the sight of a few rats in the walls don't effect us as it once did.
posted by SPrintF at 8:55 AM on November 1, 2022

I "skipped ahead" to watch this one because I like the short story it's based on. It's a very loose interpretation of the source material, which depended entirely on the horror of learning that Pickman was painting from photographic reference of real monsters. The director made a good call in not leaning on that too hard -- it's too obvious a "twist" and I would argue that it's less effective in a visual medium than in the written word.

I did like the addition of Thurber's mental deterioration when exposed to the paintings, and the movement of the painted figures added some nice creepiness. Bringing his wife and child into the picture extended the emotional stakes, and I thought Glover's performance (accent aside...) did a great job of straddling the line between sympathetic and malevolent. I was never quite sure, even at the end, what exactly Pickman knew about what he was painting and what effect his art had on people around him.
posted by riotnrrd at 9:48 AM on November 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

I didn't care for it and I think I'll just keep hoping for a more faithful adaptation of the story in the future. At the point where Thurber is in the graveyard and there's a creature behind a bush I was wishing they just hadn't done that. I wish there was more an exploration of why Thurber would invite Pickman to stay for dinner; tease out that awkward social obligation and explore it. Or when Pickman's painting are presented to the society, and Thurber objects, WHY CUT AWAY? Why not show the paintings and they are perfectly fine, though they are of graveyard scenes. Then Thurber can be disquieted in a way no one else is seeing.

I admit I dislike Glover. I thought his Mass accent was tolerable, but then that dinner scene didn't have the tension I felt it needed. The entire endeavor was off the rails at that point, bad script I felt, but the direction wasn't helping. Damn if it wasn't beautiful though.
posted by Catblack at 3:22 PM on November 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Glover's accent here seemed to be calculated to turn the viewer into an insane, gibbering mess, and Barnes's wasn't much better.
posted by whir at 6:26 PM on November 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

I didn't care for this story. Yeah, in the original, the big revelation was that Pickman was drawing from life, and what that meant about what was in the world, under the (literal) surface. While Pickman's art was controversial, I don't recall it corrupting people, it was just (well done) art. Also, Pickman and family show up in The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath as knowledgeable people to consult, not scary at all to the wise.
Here, the revelation's almost and afterthought, and it's all about the corrupting influence the art has on people. It felt a lot more like In the Mouth of Madness. I like ItMoM, but it wasn't the story I wanted in this case.
posted by Spike Glee at 7:48 AM on November 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

I was… disappointed? It was another example of adapting one of Lovecraft’s fairly restrained and spare stories and adding a lot of extra cruft onto it. I’d like to see someone try and tone down the grue and hold off the monster effects until the final act. I liked the costuming and set design, but the story seemed desperate to fill its running time with anything except Lovecraft’s story, which is a pity. Rather than messing around with a family and (maybe?) an evil cult, I think they could have done more with Thurber being a WWI vet and that might have affected him.

I agree that the greatest horror was Glover’s accent. What was that?
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:29 PM on November 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

I think they could have done more with Thurber being a WWI vet and that might have affected him.

That would have been good. There was a brief, off-hand reference to shell shock that didn't go anywhere.

I also felt the time jump was poorly executed, now that I'm thinking about this again. The last interaction we see between Thurber and his wife-to-be, before jumping to them being married, is him fucking up a major social engagement (which they assumed to be a result of him being drunk -- his alcoholism is something that is hinted at later, when he was drinking tea all night rather than wine when Pickman came for dinner, and then briefly mentioned explicitly but again mostly brushed off). It seems like his deteriorating mental state, even at that early stage, is ruining his life, but then apparently there were no major social consequences because they get married anyway.
posted by asnider at 8:39 AM on November 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

I was very disappointed in this; they could've done a find and replace with Thurber and Pickman and gestured toward it being an inspiration rather than an adaptation and I'd have been happier, but as it is I love the story and this very pretty, very lavish mess just doesn't satisfy.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:43 PM on November 16, 2022 [2 favorites]

Like much of Lovecraft, this seemed so much longer than it actually is.

Nthing shock and confusion mainly over Glover’s accent. Bowery Boys? I have no idea what he was going for there.
posted by Naberius at 9:17 PM on November 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

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