Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities
1×04: “The Outside”
Directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
Based on a Short Story by Emily Carroll
Written by Haley Z. Boston
* For a recap & review of 1×03, click here.
* For a recap & review of 1×05, click here.
It’s Christmastime. Stacey (Kate Micucci) microwaves a bunch of wings and sits in front of the television flicking channels. She soon hears a noise so she grabs an axe to go down into the basement. She doesn’t find anything down there, going upstairs for a look. Still nothing. She checks everywhere and there’s nobody to be found. Stacey calls the cops, getting her husband Keith (Martin Starr) on the phone. He assures her nothing’s wrong. At work in the bank, Stacey doesn’t much get along with her coworkers, but she wants to, watching one of them apply hand lotion like she’s watching a celebrity. She does get invited to a Christmas party hosted by her coworker Gina, which includes a Secret Santa giveaway; Stacey gets Gina’s name in the draw, too.
So, for a Secret Santa gift, Stacey shoots a duck and taxidermies it with the intention of giving it to Gina. It’s certainly a lot of work! Something tells me it won’t be well received by Gina, or any of the other women from the bank, even if we see just how much work it takes Stacey. And Stacey’s pretty excited about being invited to the party. She talks about it to Keith when he gets home from work. He wonders why the women at work haven’t invited Stacey to a party until now. “I don‘t match,” Stacey says. That’s what Keith likes about his wife, but she feels out of place at work. Stacey’s jealous of someone like Gina, whom she sees as having a near perfect life.
The party doesn’t entirely go how Stacey expected or hoped. She feels like the outcast and also feels somewhat excluded. She doesn’t fit in with the gossiping women who are only concerned about body weight and appearances and big dicks. Even worse, the taxidermy duck doesn’t go over with anybody well at all. Gina ends up gifting everyone at the party some Alo Glo, a popular and pricey skin lotion. Unfortunately the lotion causes a reaction with Stacey’s skin, turning her face red with a rash. This sends Stacey home embarrassed and generally feeling awful. Keith figures his wife is just allergic to the lotion. Stacey says she has a “stupid, ugly, bad face,” but her husband won’t hear any more of it.
That doesn’t help Stacey. She’s up all night itching from the rash. On the coffee table, the Alo Glo seeps out of the tube on its own, like it’s alive. Stacey sits down to watch television because she can’t sleep. She sees an Alo Glo commercial with the Alo Glo Man (Dan Stevens) telling people: “Alo Glo can fix it all.” The product is said to fix your “body, mind, and soul.” Perfect capitalism: not just selling a product, selling a lifestyle. Soon, the Alo Glo Man is speaking directly to Stacey. He says: “I can get you a seat at the table.” Consumer capitalism is here to deliver a new life to Stacey. The Alo Glo Man says Stacey needs much more of the product for it to work properly. He says itching means healing. Soon enough, Stacey calls the number on the screen and orders more Alo Glo with her credit card.
The next day, Alo Glo has already arrived.
Stacey’s face only gets worse and Keith suggests she shouldn’t use the Alo Glo anymore. But she believes in the process. Keith sees through the beauty industry, telling his wife there isn’t anything wrong with her. Stacey believes there’s something wrong, though. She also knows there are gender dynamics at play in who gets to be ugly, fat, and so on. She urges her husband to support her personal journey.
And on Stacey goes using the Alo Glo, itching and scratching.
The Alo Glo Man keeps reaching out through the television, calling to Stacey, even when the TV set is off. He wants to see the progress she’s made. He keeps telling Stacey to let the “New You” grow. He believes she doesn’t trust him, so he makes her put her hand to his against the screen, telling her she must “go all the way.” The Alo Glo Man tells Stacey to keep on using the Alo Glo because the new version of herself is right below her skin, waiting to emerge. Downstairs, the Alo Glo is oozing out of its containers, bursting with life, and it freaks Stacey out more than a little. After a while the Alo Glo seeps all over the floor and starts to take some kind of form.
The next day, Keith gets home from work and Stacey’s upstairs scratching some of her skin off. When she comes downstairs he sees how much worse her skin’s been getting and how badly she’s scratched at it. He wants her to go see the doctor. Stacey insists it’s “part of the process” of fixing herself, but Keith keeps telling her she doesn’t need fixing. Nothing can stop her from believing in the Alo Glo. She rushes off angry with Keith and in the basement she discovers the Alo Glo has formed itself into the shape of a woman. Stacey and the shape watch each other, moving in unison. They touch their hands together, then they kiss and embrace one another. Stacey’s in love with the idea of a new self.
When Stacey goes upstairs her husband’s pissed off at her since she’s covered in Alo Glo. She claims she feels better. Keith says: “This isn‘t you.” He talks about all the reasons he loves his wife, from her enjoyment of horror movies despite being frightened by them, to her love of nature and taxidermy. But it doesn’t quite reach Stacey. She keeps talking about her transformation, and it just frustrates Keith. So she stabs Keith right in the forehead. His wound starts pouring blood everywhere. He tries to call for help with his radio, but Stacey axes him in the back before he makes contact. Stacey goes on chopping her husband to death with the axe on the floor. She’s lost it entirely.
Stacey follows Alo Glo tracks through the hallway of her home up to the bathroom, where the lotiony shape dissolves into a pool inside the bathtub. She strips down and gets into the tub, submerging herself in the Alo Glo. Another somewhat erotic experience, more so than the kiss and embrace earlier seeing she’s completely covered in the lotion.
Some time later, Stacey emerges from the Alo Glo a new woman with no blemishes and imperfections as she perceived herself before. Great use of Caleb Hawley’s cover of “You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate. She brags to her husband that the Alo Glo worked. She tosses Keith’s corpse down into the basement, where she later disembowels him and readies his body to be taxidermied, breathing some kind of life back into her husband again. Stacey goes about life with her new identity, leaving taxidermied Keith at home on the couch to watch TV.
At work, everybody’s shocked by Stacey and her new appearance. She’s happy to be the centre of attention. Everybody’s complimenting her. Stacey gloats over her newfound beauty. Then she becomes one of the popular women at work, gossiping with her new pals and making plans for after work. It’s all Stacey ever wanted. And it’s a totally fabricated, narcissistic, plastic existence with no substance whatsoever. The contemporary American Dream has been achieved!
Love the wildly delusional ending. Fits perfectly.