An Average Movie-Goer’s Review
Spoilers! If you don’t want spoilers – check out the Spoiler-Free post
I love horror movies and if I’m going to watch them anyway, why not write an entertaining/funny review from the POV of an average movie-goer and not a professional critic.
Today we’re looking at Netflix’s The Murmuring. The eighth and final mini-feature of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities
After a personal tragedy, a married couple of ornithologists head to an abandoned mansion on an isolated island to research birds but one of them starts to experience evidence of the supernatural.
Is Cabinet of Curiosities: The Murmuring Scary?
The Murmuring has some pretty good jump scares and does a great job creating a sense of oncoming scares. Some are predictable so you might not be scared but overall you might jump a bit and might leave the episode a bit terrified of what lurks in old abandoned houses… and honestly that should be your default anyway.
All of our Cabinet of Curiosities Explanations/Reviews:
The episode opens with our main characters Nancy and Edgar (played by Essie Davis and Andrew Lincoln respectively) giving a presentation on bird migrations. It’s just as boring as it sounds but this takes place in 1951 so there wasn’t a lot of interesting stuff going on. Nancy and Edgar are ornithologists who are trying to find out more about bird migrations and why they move in unison in a group, almost telepathically.
The presentation, appears to have been one to investors(?) for their research since there’s a fancy party immediately after with many people congratulating the two. At the party, one of the attendees congratulates Edgar and then mentions some kind of tragedy that befell the couple in the previous months. Judging from his statements we can surmise that Nancy and Edgar lost a child recently which is a total dick move to bring up randomly.
The next day Nancy and Edgar set off on their next research assignment. After a plane ride, the two are driven by car and then by small boat to an isolated island by Mr. Grieves. He shows them the large house they’ll be staying at that is totally a haunted house. All Mr. Grieves tells them is that no one has lived there for years and that the original owner built it for his daughter but it now belongs to the state.
After a quick tour where Nancy notices a picture of a woman and child along with a picture of a soldier, Mr. Grieves leaves and the two set up their bird-watching tents and equipment. That night the two head to bed and Edgar is turned down for sex. Though Edgar takes the rejection without issue, it’s clear the two haven’t gotten intimate in a while.
A couple of hours later, Nancy is unable to sleep and hears the sounds of a baby crying coming from the hall. She sits up in bed and stares at the open door to the hallway. Tip: Always keep your doors closed if you don’t want something jumping out at you from the hallway. We hear someone run down the hall and we get an irritating jump scare when the tape recorder downstairs starts playing at an extremely loud volume.
Nancy and Edgar run downstairs and turn off the machine while wondering how it could have turned on by itself. The next morning the two set off to separate bird-watching spots and after a few hours, Nancy returns to the house to review the sound recordings she’s captured.
During her review, she hears someone running down the hall. In an effective scene, the sounds of someone running through the house build some pretty good tension as you’re expecting a jump scare. Edgar then returns and Nancy doesn’t mention the sounds at all.
Later the two are discussing the mating practices of birds and it gets pretty hot and heavy as Edgar plays some music. By that I mean it doesn’t because they’re talking about birds. Edgar does a little dance, hoping to make a little love, and get down that night but he’s turned down yet again.
That night Nancy once again can’t sleep and once again hears sounds coming from the hallway. For some reason instead of closing the bedroom door, she chooses to stare out into the creepy hallway. The sounds get louder and she decides to investigate, finding the attic door slamming on its own.
Turns out it’s slamming on its own because there’s a huge freaking hole in the roof. Nancy doesn’t give two shits about the huge hole because a flock of dunlins, that’s a type of bird I guess, have nested on the roof. She happily wakes up Edgar and they start recording, noting how rare it is for the birds to nest on a roof.
Hours later as the sun rises, Edgar is outside video recording while Nancy is in the attic recording audio. She hears Edgar whistle to her from downstairs but soon realizes it’s not Edgar whistling as the whistling sounds like it’s coming from directly in front of her. Nancy cautiously searches the empty house but finds it empty.
Instead of getting the fuck out, she returns to the attic to review the audio. After hearing some random static, she rewinds the tape and this time hears a child’s voice saying “I’m so cold”. Cut to a little while later, Edgar is reviewing the audio and says he doesn’t hear anything. Importantly Nancy does not tell him what she heard.
Nancy listens to the audio again but this time doesn’t hear anything weird. Edgar attributes it to her lack of sleep and the two argue. That night as the two read together, Nancy starts to raise questions about the previous owners. I feel like this is something you should do before you start sleeping in a home, or at the very least, the first day you experience ghostly activities.
Edgar flirts with Nancy and tells her he loves her which she responds by kissing him. Edgar once again gets turned down for sex but this time Nancy pushes him off and demands he doesn’t touch her. He questions why and she tearfully says there’s no point. The two apologize to each other and Nancy says she just needs more time.
That night Nancy is unable to sleep and sees a figure standing by the door. Putting her glasses on the figure says “I’m so cold” and Nancy screams.
Edgar wakes up but the ghost child is gone. Nancy doesn’t say what she saw and only says she had a bad dream. The following day as Edgar records birds, Nancy heads into the house and searches for information on the previous owners. She finds a bunch of letters locked behind a glass cabinet and embroidered linen depicting the dunlins flying around a woman with the word “freedom” etched in.
Later, after showing Edgar the linen, the two argue because Nancy neglected her work to search the house. Nancy tells Edgar she feels sad for the woman in the embroidery but the couple is clearly having communication issues stemming from losing their child. That night, Nancy has a dream of a baby next to her in bed and we learn the child they lost was named Ava.
Nancy looks behind her and the ghost is gone but so is Ava. Turns out it was less of a dream and more of a hallucination because she spots the child running down the hall and she follows after him. Entering the study, she finds the locked cabinet from earlier is now open and the letters have spilled out onto the floor.
The following day Nancy read the letters and discovered that the soldier in the picture from earlier was having an affair with the woman who lived in the house. Their affair led to a child but despite the soldier’s claims that he would leave his wife to be with her, he never did. Nancy tells all of this to Edgar while he takes pictures of birds but he definitely doesn’t care and questions why she cares.
Nancy tells him the letters still haven’t explained why the woman moved to the isolated island alone with the child or what happened to them. This leads to another argument and Nancy storms back to the house where she excitingly notices the dunlins are back on the roof.
Hours later Nancy is recording the dunlins’ audio but the audio crackles meaning gh-gh-gh-ghosts! A child’s voice says “mommy’s mad at me” and a dripping-wet child appears at the stairs crying. Nancy follows him down the hall and approaches him instead of leaving the house.
Nancy jumps back and the ghost child disappears. Later Edgar returns home and a dunlin flies into the kitchen. The two try to save it but it breaks its neck when it flies into a window. Notably, Nancy doesn’t mention the other dead kid in the house.
That night Nancy is taking a bath when the sounds of a wailing woman is heard outside the door. The woman starts banging on the door and Nancy hears a child’s voice next to her say “I’m so cold”. Looking down at the water, Nancy sees the dead child submerged in the water.
She jumps up and the door opens on its own. In a jump scare, the ghostly figure of a woman floats towards Nancy shouting “what did you do!”
Nancy screams (fair) and Edgar comes running. A short time later, Nancy tells Edgar what happened but leaves out the ghosts. Edgar blames it on the old house settling and essentially tells Nancy to let out her emotions as she hasn’t since they lost Ava. This leads to an argument as their communication issues finally bubble to the surface.
The following day Mr. Grieves arrives by boat with some supplies and as Edgar takes a box inside, Nancy asks Mr. Grieves about the house. In a heated exchange, Mr. Grieves reveals that thirty years ago the woman’s rich family placed her and her child in the house to avoid the controversy it would cause.
The woman drowned her son and then killed herself. He also reveals that people have claimed to see ghosts in the house but since he doesn’t believe in ghosts, they must be lying. After Mr. Grieves leaves, Edgar asks Nancy what was the conversation about and she finally reveals she’s been seeing ghosts.
Edgar tries to chalk it up to her not sleeping since Ava died a year ago. Since he hasn’t seen anything weird, he tries to find a rational explanation but this leads to another argument. In their worst argument yet, Edgar tells her he feels lost and no longer understands her. He tearfully tells her she hasn’t shed a single tear for Ava and now it appears she cares more about a stranger than her own daughter.
Edgar says he feels her slipping away and wants to stay married but she’s become distant. He tells her he’ll sleep in the living room and head off to work before she wakes up but he’ll stay if she says he wants him too. Nancy remains quiet.
The following morning Nancy hears Edgar’s alarm go off and he leaves before she can tell him to stay. Nancy heads to the attic and sings to the birds but is interrupted when the balcony doors fling open. Hearing the boy crying again, she heads downstairs and sees him. He tells Nancy “mommy is mad at me” before he enters a room. Nancy then hears the woman yelling out “what have you done” and she appears at the end of the hall.
Nancy follows the child into the room and closes the door. She sees the boy and Nancy realizes the boy doesn’t know he’s dead. The boy says he doesn’t know why his mom is mad at him and repeats that he’s cold. Nancy tells him his mother did a bad thing and he’s no longer alive but that he’s the perfect child. As the sun begins to rise, Nancy tells him to run into the light as he’s safe now.
The child runs towards her outstretched arms and disappears as he reaches the sunlight, his soul seemingly at rest.
Nancy hears the mother crying from the attic and remembers she has one last ghost to kill. She runs upstairs and realizes that the mother yelling “what have you done” wasn’t directed at her son but at herself. After killing her child, the mother was completely distraught at her actions and killed herself by jumping out of the balcony.
Nancy watches the mother jump out of the window and her ghost disappears also seemingly at rest. Nancy runs outside as the dunlins circle her and fly off signifying Nancy is ready to start being free of her grief over Ava.
Nancy calls Edgar on their radio and she apologizes and cries. The episode ends with Nancy telling Edgar she loves him and wants to talk about Ava.
The Murmuring is great and it’s mainly because of the acting and dialogue. Andrew Lincoln and Essie Davis do an amazing job at making you feel exactly what the characters are going through. The haunted house and its inhabitants are pretty predictable and there’s nothing on that front that will shock you or stick with you as much as the performances. That final argument the two have where Edgar reveals he feels lost and the final conversation Nancy has with Edgar over the radio is a masterclass of acting and getting the audience to connect.
The atmosphere created by the direction and the sound design create great tension and definitely gets you a bit scared but it’s unfortunate they don’t do it often. If you’ve seen enough haunted house films you won’t be shocked at how this plays out or what the real story is but the way it’s tied to what Edgar and Nancy are going through is what really elevates the story.
The only negative I have, and it’s barely a negative, is that it was pretty slow on getting started but that’s mainly because the set up is birdwatching. I’m not a bird watcher or an ornithologist so nothing they were saying was connecting with me. Though this definitely helped the episode feel like a traditional horror story wherein it’s just a set of average people, living out their lives and they’re put into a horror situation.
Overall I highly recommend giving The Murmuring a watch and if you only watch one Cabinet of Curiosities story, I have to recommend watching this one over any of the others.
Stuff to Ignore
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