The Summer of Lovecraft: Cthulhu (2007)

cthulhudvd

“Welcome home to the end of the world.”

Directed by Daniel Gildark
Starring Jason Cottle, Scott Green, Richard Garfield, Cara Buono and Tori Spelling

The Story

Written in 1931, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” is a story of a corrupted seaside town with a dark secret. The narrator visits the port of Innsmouth, where he discovers that the locals have a distinctive “look” and that strange things are afoot. When a talkative local soak tells the narrator that the townsfolk have made a pact with the “Deep Ones” — humanoid undersea creatures — the local cult, the Esoteric Order of Dagon, pursues him. Eventually he gets away, but he discovers that the heritage of the town is in his blood and that he too will begin the metamorphosis into a Deep One.

Happyfett’s Note: A particularly popular source of literary inspiration, ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ has produced not one, but at least three volumes of more or less faithful (often much less) tribute fiction. Reviews of the first volume, Shadows Over Innsmouth can be found on my books blog.

The Film

In the near future, the world is falling apart as a result of political strife and climate change. University professor Russel Marsh (Cottle) receives word that his mother has died. Reluctantly, he returns to his hometown of Rivermouth in coastal Washington, where he discovers that strange things are afoot. When Marsh goes against the sinister cult run by his father, the cult frames him for a crime he didn’t commit. Society begins to break down as the cult’s plan comes to fruition, and Marsh has to choose between his father’s schemes and his growing but uncertain relationship with childhood sweetheart Mike (Green). summerattemp2

What’s wrong with it?

Not a huge amount. The core conceit — that a pervading sense of alienation and the feeling that there’s something wrong with you apply not only to being part-monster but also to growing up gay in an intolerant small town — is very good. But the scenes don’t always hang together, and the performance are weirdly swingy. Mike is all regular-guy attitude, but Marsh alternates between flat affect and bug-eyed ranting, while everyone else seems to have their dial firmly stuck on bug-eyed rant. There are a lot of little plot details that are introduced and then never really explored.

What’s right with it?

It’s moody and atmospheric, and it has a lot of genuinely creepy details and images. It incorporates a psychological element effectively into Lovecraftian horror, something that is often difficult to do (although “Shadow” is a story that handles it well). It has a lot of clever adaptations that make the Innsmouth story fit well into the modern world.

How bad is it really?

It is definitely better in concept than in execution. Most of its really effective scenes are just Marsh encountering eerie images; a lot of the other ones are undercut by the director’s decision to have all the other actors go right to 10 and stay there. It also has a lot of “mysterious shit happens in a grey-blue environment” scenes that don’t mean a lot.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The final shot, a long, sweeping helicopter view of figures staggering out of the surf to the waiting lights of their dry-land cousins, is pretty great. But there’s also a nice shot where Russel rows away from a building while a row of robed cultists walk across a bridge toward it. And I was pleased to see that when an infertile local couple drug Russ so they can have his royal monster-babies, he flat-out says that they raped him.

What’s up with…? 

Where to begin? There are a lot of “what’s up with” moments in this movie. A lot of it operates on (charitably) dream logic or (uncharitably) coincidence.

  • The blind boy? Russel runs away from a mysterious, er, thingy and blunders into a house occupied by the very kid he was already looking for.
  • The staticky television? The blind boy sits staring at a TV that’s just showing static. Because …
  • The mysterious idol thing? It shows up in Russ’s hotel room under mysterious circumstances, and leads him to the cult. Did I miss when they explained where it came from?
  • The grandson thing. Men of the Marsh family die around the time their grandsons are born — but presumably they fake their own deaths instead and go to live in the sea or drive around town getting frozen yogurt. Why then, why only men, who knows?
  • Russel’s terrible hair? He shaves it all off when he gets into town, I guess to make him look more like his dad. But … it could really have been a lot better to start with.

Ratings

Production values Low budget but atmospheric and effective. 5.
Dialogue and performances More enthusiasm than judgement. 12.
Plot and execution Not bad if you don’t squint too hard. 9.
Randomness It’s all in the details; big things make sense, little things are fever-dream quality. 12.
Waste of potential Legitimately good adaptation, neither slavish nor off-base. 5.

Overall 43%

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