Friday, June 28, 2019


Daniel Gildark

In a world on the brink of ecological collapse. Russ Marsh (Jason Cottle) is informed that his mother has died. He heads back to his seaside hometown for her funeral and the reading of her will. It just so happens that his estranged father (Ian Geohegan) is the leader of the local cult. Russ reconnects with his ex-boyfriend and uncovers a conspiracy the involves him and the end of the world. Russ slowly realizes that his fate is inevitable.

"I can't eat all of this, I don't want to be...wait for it....wait for it... shellfish!"
As H.P. Lovecraft has moved from cult literary figure to the genre mainstream, his mark on horror has become indelible. His flaws as a writer and a person have become more difficult to ignore, but at the same time, they are integral to his creation. What is the core of cosmic horror, but his anxiety and xenophobia taken to the extreme? Lovecraft recanted some of his viewers later in his life, perhaps his writing and contact with other writers allowed him to grow. Still, the horror of his work is found in the unknown and the other, so it is not only subversive but logical to extend that fear into the 21st century by mapping it to the experience of being gay in small-town America.

Although Cthulhu does have one foot in the meta textual discussion of sexuality and how it is perceived, it also a true-to-form Lovecraftian tale. The stakes are cosmic in their implications. There is body horror, madness, and an abhorrence of family lineage. The monstrous things are unseen or only half-glimpsed. Interestingly enough for all its restraint in horror, the human interactions are melodramatic bordering on being campy. I can see this being viewed as a flaw, but I also feel like the few moments of over-the-top villainy and levity keep the film from being a dour slog towards the finale. Yes, this lessens the impact of the horror, but there is plenty of doom and horror to go around by the third act and the silly parts don’t undermine that completely.

The ocean hates you.
Cthulhu is filled with images of the decaying sea town, interestingly, on the west coast as opposed to Lovecraft’s usual stomping grounds in the east. The effect is the same, a strange isolated community where things look normal until you focus on the slightest detail, like the octopus image on the manhole covers, or the fact there is church called the Esoteric Order of Dagon. The film also captures the beauty and horror of the ocean as Russ feels this longing for walking out into the ocean, the place where monsters spawn and seemingly return.

Cthulhu isn’t a perfect movie, but it does show ways to take the core of what drove Lovecraft’s creations and make them accessible to modern storytelling without sacrificing the cosmic horror of it all. It is a brave and curious film, one that inverts our expectations of a Lovecraft movie but still holds true to its ethos as the stars are right and unknowable doom closes in.

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