Episode 8 of Cabinet of Curiosities brings this anthology to a close with ornithologist Nancy giving a speech about bird patterns and its relevance in the world. It seems scientists are in the dark over what’s happening with this, but they’re devoted over finding clues to its origins. It couldn’t possibly be bird telepathy and mind-reading could it?
Well, manning the film is Edgar, Nancy’s partner in crime, who puts all the congratulations to Nancy, despite being surrounded by businessmen afterwards buzzing with happiness. Edgar and Nancy have quite the sorrowful history, if a conversation with one of the men is anything to go by, but it remains hidden for now.
Edgar and Nancy head off to a secluded home off Big Harbour Island, intent on studying birds and furthering their research. They’re shown around by an old man by the docks, who tells them he’ll be returning in a week.
The old house is pretty creepy and despite the new sheets, Nancy struggles to get back to sleep. In fact, she hears a baby crying in the distance, footsteps, and suddenly the recorder comes on downstairs. It’s certainly ominous and a sign of things to come.
Nancy decides to head back to the house alone that afternoon to get a head-start on her recordings but once again, she hears footsteps chattering across the hallway. Edgar heads back and decides to get the fire going, while Nancy smiles painfully and tells him she has a casserole in the oven. It’s clear that there’s a serious elephant in the room, and it could well be to do with that child we keep hearing. The passion is clearly gone in the relationship between them, evidenced by Edgar attempting to dance wigh her that night.
Those footsteps turn to thuds that night as the shutter doors slam. Up in the attic, there’s an even stranger occurrence. In fact, the dunlins are all perched on the wooden slants in the attic. Edgar records from outside while Nancy struggles to stay awake inside. In fact, she begins hearing whistling and a ghostly voice telling her “I’m so cold.”
Naturally, Edgar doesn’t hear it and with no recorded evidence of Dunlins roosting inside houses, Nancy starts to get cold feet. She’s worried about the house and wonders just what the previous occupants might have been up to.
Nancy’s hallucinations get worse, seeing a baby next to her and a strange figure walking through the house. In the middle of the night, she follows the cries to the study, where she finds numerous letters strewn across the ground, each written with the familiar “To My Sweetheart”, the same handwriting as that from the portraits up the wall.
Edgar is less interested in this old story and more interested in the birds. Well, not so for Nancy. When she heads back to the house after an argument, she notices that strange child from before, dripping wet and sobbing. It’s a brief moment, but something that’s exacerbated some time later by banging on the bathroom door and bloodcurdling wailing. She also sees that child in the bath and a woman rushing at her.
Edgar rushes in to help her and encourages her to embrace her feelings and deal with the grief she’s kept repressed for so long. Eventually she speaks to the caretaker about what she’s seen and experienced, but he encourages her not to wallow in other’s misery and chalks it up to morbid fascination. Nancy though, eventually points out to Edgar that she’s been seeing things.
It turns out Edgar and Nancy took this trip to try and fix their relationship – and now we understand why. Nancy lost her daughter Ava a year back. Since then, Nancy hasn’t had a single tear and doesn’t understand why she won’t allow him to help. Nancy though, is silent and listens as Edgar concedes and decides to sleep on the sofa and give her some space. As promised, he leaves before dawn, leaving Nancy alone.
Nancy eventually embraces her own fears and insecurities, encouraging the boy to run into the light and be freed, admitting that it’s not his fault and that he’s dead. After, Nancy heads up to the attic and speaks to the ghostly mother, watching as she stares at her hands and utters “what have you done?!” before jumping to her doom. This story, of course, mirrors the fears and insecurities that Nancy has been feeling. She heads outside and watches as the swarm of Dunlins fly around her… and then they take off.
Nancy gets on the radio and speaks to Edgar, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She says, pointing out how lost she’s been. As the sun rises, Nancy decides the time is right to talk about Ava.
The Episode Review
Talk about ending on a high! Cabinet of Curiosities leaves the best until last and it’s an absolute banger of an episode. This entire chapter manages to blend strong themes and allegorical visuals with effective horror that is genuinely scary. There are some great scares in here and it’s helped tremendously by the camera work, which is exemplary throughout.
The acting is solid and what’s particularly good here is how the two leads never quite say what happened to Ava, only that this divide between them has been rotting away in the background and driven a huge divide between them. It’s a fantastic bit of storytelling and the ending, with the sunrise casting over Nancy’s face, helps to reinforce that idea of coming back into the light after being trapped in the darkness for so long.
A fantastic chapter to end what’s otherwise been a really solid horror anthology. This one’s well worth a watch and a highlight for sure.