REVIEW: CTHULHU (2007)
Directed by Dan Gildark
By Connor Armenti
Ever see one of those movies with two colliding premises that, at least on surface level, seem as far apart from one another as can be? The odd thing about Dan Gildark’s surprisingly low-flying Lovecraftian lovechild Cthulhu, even odder than the author’s cosmic mythos, is that the external and the internal themes correlate and even thrive on one another far more than one would expect.
The film, despite bearing the title of Lovecraft’s most iconic squid-faced deity, tributes more the likes of “Dagon” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. The story concerns everyman Russ’s return to his hometown for his mother’s funeral, and in doing so gets caught up in some rapturous scheme involving the local cult. Classic small-town horror setup. A plethora of demons Russ must face, being the town’s solitary (openly) gay residential alumni. This puts him at odds with his fanatic father, who so happens to lead that very same cult.
I’ll knock out the negatives of this film first, mainly comprising of the lack of narrative solidity; rather than being a blend of multiple stories or a genre-piece in the style of Lovecraft, it seems more to jump back and forth between short stories. The film can’t seem to decide which story it wants to adapt to. Are we battling the resident servants of the Elder Gods, or are we impending the arrival of Cthulhu himself? While all the tropes for a decent plotline are there, they’re just too disjointed. Imagine a choose-your-own-adventure novel that’s been torn apart by a rabid llama and you read them in the order in which they fell to the ground. The characters outside of the protagonist are generally quite bland beyond their personal goals, dastardly or otherwise, though it could easily be argued that Lovecraft’s own side-characters would suffer similar neglect; in the grand scheme of the aquatic-apocalypse, what do the little human folk matter?
It does, however, achieve an extraordinary atmosphere, both aesthetic and ambient. The entirety of the town is washed in the nihilistic twilight blue of a seaside town, and we see and hear the menacing ocean as if it were an antagonist in and of itself. But we know it’s not the ocean that poses a threat, it’s what lurks beneath. But what really adds to that atmosphere is that we never see said lurkers with our own eyes; it’s the ocean that poses the ominousness and dread. This is what makes it not only all the more frightening, but establishes itself as a proper Lovecraft film.
What really brings the marks up for this flick, however, is its aforementioned portrayal and blend of two very seemingly unlikely conflicts. Internally, Russ is battling the ostracision of his former peers over his sexuality, structured so as to wipe away the Hollywood drama and campiness that often encapsulates such a struggle as we have seen in such other, more grand films. Despite a uselessly cliched head-shaving-to-grant-myself-a-new-identity-but-never-actually-works scene, Russ avoids wallowing in self-loathing and self-flagellating misery and soldiers on in his quest to basically solve the fishy rapture.
The contrast between an essentially microscopic life such as Russ’ and its quarrels and an interdimensional takeover of a fish-god, whilst definitely established and well-defined, is nothing we haven’t seen before. But the correlations between the struggles of a gay man and an impending apocalypse are maddening. You return to your hometown and to the trials and tribulations you faced in your youth, sexual discovery, revelations and suicide attempts alike. You then find out you’re the heir to an apocalyptic cult and someone wants your babies to raise new fishboy hybrids. Okay, maybe those specifics don’t quite correlate to the gay struggle. But it’s the simple questioning of your place in the universe and identity; the conundrum of who you are and where you fit into this world is also known to be caused by the discovery of ancient sea-dwelling monsters who plan to conquer everything you’ve ever known and loved. And while is it possible to find peace within yourself, the quandary between you and those who seek to bring you down remain the same, whether it lies on the shoulders of scaly giants or of one man.