Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No Craft Like Lovecraft pt.2 (C'thulhu fhtagn)

Cthulu(2007)directed by Dan Gildark

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh C'thulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn (In his house at R'lyeh dead C'thulhu waits dreaming.)
"What rough-best, slumps into Bethlehem to be born?" says a cop to an outsider, in an interrogation in "Cthulu". Cthulu, is a giant demonic octopus creature from beyond the stars, who lives beneath the ocean with several other similar deities, reaching out with telepathic tentacles to drive the world toward apocalypse, the rebirth of their rule on Earth.
This movie never mentions this outright (these more fantastic shots above and below this sentence are not featured in the film) there is an end of the world, some "thing" in the sea, people who want to go back to the sea, ritual sacrifices, black hooded cults, and a fisherman who will tell you the whole crazy story if you buy him some boos. It's based on a series of stories HP Lovecraft wrote about these creatures, and the film is peppered with little references to his other stories and other novels for that matter(the house the main character inherits, is "Lot 49" for instance). Ive even heard of a few "Campus Crusade's For Cthulu" springing up at a few colleges in real life. A history professor is on his way from Seattle to Oregon to attend his mothers funeral. His father is the head of some kind of "new agey cult", his son likens to Angels Gate and Mormonism ("why do you think early Christians made their symbol a fish?" his father retorts). The professor is gay, and we get the sense his father and he had a falling out over it as a result(though not for the typical Religious-Right reasons, it's made to seem that way initially, but its more concerned with the politics of "breeding"). The professor meets an old childhood friend, whom he did some "experimenting" with back in the day. The two slowly rekindle their relationship, though the friend is more ambiguous in his feelings, as he has a daughter, lives in town he grew up in, etc. The professor is plagued with strange dreams, mysterious warnings, abnormal occurrences glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. He's not as gung-ho to investigate as most characters in these circumstances are, but he's inexorably lead into one shadowy scenario after the other, picking up clues along the way. I can say easily it's the best looking Cthulu mythos story (Ive only seen "Dagon" and "In The Mouth Of Madness", and "The Evil Dead" only kinda sorta counts), Ive seen so far. The cinematography and general pace and tone of the film are closer to something like "Let The Right One In" than "The Mist". Moody, eerily and more often than not, really beautifully shot and lit scenes, create an atmosphere above the kind of low budget horror, this is likely to be lumped in with. "Cthulu" is a small town mystery, with some general coming of age flashbacks, thrown in for measure. The gay element of the film, isn't any more imposing than having a straight protagonist (actually from some of the reviews Ive read it seems like it supplemented for sfx seeming to make the average viewer more uncomfortable than any squid-angel monster ever could have.), and it even makes Tori Spelling's (she's only on screen briefly, and though an easy target for mockery, not too bad) scenes where she attempts to get him to impregnate her, more amusing than they might otherwise be. And the constant aquatic references, were even okay and funny enough, "my wife...she needs your swimmers..." On his way from the city to the country, the professor listens to radio stations talk about growing chaos around the world, increasing Global Warming(the rising ocean levels, threatening the shorelines), and America securing it's Polar boarders for the fight against terrorism and coming up against Eskimo radicals (which really is so funny it should be it's own movie...but its another Cthulu joke, there's supposed to be an "Elder One" city, buried somewhere in the Artic snow, to be more fully explored in Guillermo Del Torro's upcoming "At The Mountains Of Madness"), as just briefly in the background he passes a church with a bulletin board that reeds for "Meeting For The Esoteric Order Of Dagon...and Bingo". It may seem at times like your watching a moody indie film about a Gay man struggling with his simple minded home town, that makes occasional allusions to always present horrors just out of sight...and it is, but the capabilities of the film makers manage to pull it off. Some of the imagery is startling, the Cage near the ocean, printed on the cover, is one, and its smart enough to never linger on a single one too long. Xenophobia is the heart of Lovecraft stories, certainly the Cthulu ones, well that and racism, as HP was a pretty notorious bigot, even for his times. When the sheriff, has the prof. locked up he gives him a spiel about the world going to hell because of people like him, and "the Jews", etc. The prof. is just as furious at the townspeople, who gawk at him as he's handcuffed, "Inbreed Morons, Apes, Animals, your all gonna get what you deserve!", he screams at them. The hostilities are mostly just beneath the surface, buried perhaps since adolescence of before to primordial times, threatening to change anyone into a monster at any moment, and though it lacks the sea monster special effects you would expect, it does make a worthy and unique addition to the Mythos as a whole.
I dont know how good this would to be for the uninitiated, see it back to back with "Dagon" if you can, or care to. They're practically the same story, but very different tellings. Much better than I expected, not amazing, but firs time director Dan Gildark, has nobly tried for a modern "Wicker Man" equal parts Gus Van Sant and Kiyoshi Kurosawa, with mer-monsters, and isn't that really what we all want out of life? I think so, and Ive been humming "Under The Sea" to myself all night: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_the_Sea

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