[originally published 12Oct2012]
Cthulhu (Dan Gildark, 2007)
Cthulhu, Dan Gildark’s expressive, delicious supernatural drama, suffers from the same mismarketing that most supernatural dramas do. This is not entirely unexpected, considering the supernatural drama is, these days, almost exclusively a Southeast Asian genre, and when similarly exceptional Asian films find their way over here, they are usually mismarketed as horror as well. (Case in point: Soo-youn Lee’s The Uninvited, one of the greatest Korean films ever made, widely panned for “not being scary enough”.) I admit, Gildark probably brought some of it on himself by tapping into the Lovecraftian mythos, but really, kiddies, if you pick up anything even remotely Lovecraft-related and expect a Roger Corman (or, worse, a Brian Yuzna) movie, you’re going to be disappointed by, well, every good attempt at Lovecraft that’s ever been committed to screen–“and this one is very good indeed.
Loosely (very loosely) based on “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, Cthulhu is the story of Russell Marsh (The Wedding Singer‘s Jason Cottle), a history professor who returns to the family pile in Oregon to execute his mother’s will after her death. While there, Russell reconnects with Mike (My Own Private Idaho‘s Scott Patrick Green), a lover from his past, and the two of them pick up where they left off after some false starts. But the longer Russell stays in town, the more he becomes convinced that his father (The Cutter‘s Dennis Kleinsmith), whose “church” seems more and more like a crazy end-of-the-world cult, is actually capable of bringing about the end of the world.
Andrew Kasch at Dread Central says of the film that it “plays out like ‘Shadow Over Innsmouth’ re-imagined by Kiyoshi Kurosawa”, and that’s a fine way of putting it indeed. The gay angle–which sent such a number of reviewers (and even more IMDB commenters) into such knee-jerk tizzy fits–makes absolute sense; about the only better method of showing “outsider” on screen would be setting the movie in a Klan-controlled area of the deep south and making your protagonist black, though that would be difficult given the movie’s stress on the importance of family ties. And let’s face it, this is a movie about relationships–specifically Russell’s relationships with Mike and his father–so both the film’s gay angle and its less-than-charitable attitude towards religion are going to be front and center here. If that bothers you, this is not the movie you want to rent tonight.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a movie with a script written by someone who
actually seems to understand the ins and outs of human relationships and does a damned fine job at injecting the supernatural into them, this is exactly the film you want to rent tonight. Kasch goes on to call this the closest to an actual H. P. Lovecraft adaptation we’ve ever had on celluloid (though not so floridly). I’ll put it this way: in the literary world, there are two types of writers who are influenced by Lovecraft. The first batch are those who thought, “oh, cool! Monsters!”, and went on to write Lovecraft-inspired fiction that focused on, yes, the monsters–August Derleth, Lin Carter, and that crowd are all well-known to Lovecraft fans. The second, much smaller, group were influenced not so much by the monsters, but by Lovecraft’s writing style–the atmosphere, the word choice, the diction, all of which worked together to inspire far more of the dread one feels reading a Lovecraft story than the few glimpses of tentacle. The best examples I can come up with off the top of my head would be Thomas Ligotti, Fred Chappell, and Steve Rasnic Tem. Think of Corman, Yuzna, and that crowd as the Lin Carters of Lovecraftian film. Dan Gildark is very much in the Ligotti/Chappell/Tem camp, and just as those books are more rewarding experiences, so is this excellent film. ****
Even when I’m pulling from the archive, do you think I’m going to leave you trailer-less? Not if I can help it, bucko!