Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Cthulhu (2007) review

    B-movie Lovecraft week continues with the 2007 Cthulhu movie. This puts the In in independent, specifically Innsmouth as it's yet another adaptation of The Shadow over Innsmouth. We'll see a third one of these adaptations when I get to doing Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.

    I have no problem with this because the TSOI is my favorite of H.P. Lovecraft's works and the one which I think is probably the most cinematic. Of course, what do I know, since Prometheus is more or less At the Mountains of Madness.

    The big difference of Cthulhu is this film isn't really all that interested in re-telling the story of fish people, pagan sacrifice, and the damnation of a person's soul by virtue of his ancestors. Instead, this is actually a story which adopts the Cthulhu Mythos for the purposes of telling a story about homosexuality.

    Hello? What? Why has a portion of my audience left? Oh right, because the subject of discussing homosexuality (especially male homosexuality) is still horribly taboo on the internet. However, in my case, I salute the creators of this movie for doing something very clever. They've managed to take something which was a metaphor for a specific thing (miscenegation) and turn it into one for something else (small town life).

Yeah, I think something weird is going on in this town. Just not sure what. Hey, why not ask those people over there!
     The vampire has been reinvented this way repeatedly throughout our cultural history. Vampires have been metaphors for (just off the top of my head): atheists, STDs, homosexuality, foreigners, the upper-class, and mental-illness. The best monsters are ones which can stand-in for any number of anxieties and the fact the creators of this movie decided to go in an unexpected direction is one to be applauded.

    In this case, the premise of the movie is young history professor Russel is contacted by his family's lawyer to inform him his mother has died. Returning for her funeral, Russel finds the entirety of the town alarming and creepy. This is not because they are conducting secret torch-lit ceremonies in the abandoned cannery on the shore, though they are, but the fact he is the homosexual son of the local pastor.

    The conceit of the story is, as far as Russel is concerned, the apparent fundamentalist Christianity of his father as well as the enforced conformity of the town (which forced his gay lover to marry and have children) is as oppressive and alien to him as the Deep Ones' worship of Dagon is to readers of H.P. Lovecraft. While H.P. Lovecraft had opinions of homosexuality common to his day, not even learning of it until adulthood, I rather like to think he'd be amused by this were he to have lived til today.

Tori Spelling as a fish-monster. *pause* I think she's quite nice to look at so I'm not going to make the jokes other bloggers have.
     Indeed, if I ever get time to write about it, I'd love to do an article about how H.P. Lovecraft used the cults to the Great Old Ones to say a lot about more popular religions. The Dunwich Horror is a critique of apocalyptical Christianity, IMHO, and I've always felt there were similar links to Great Cthulhu's cult as a whole. After all, Christianity is a religion which has strong elements of a returning savior who will end the world and binds together billions of people who otherwise have nothing in common. I say this as a Presbyterian.

    So watching Russel explore his town's mysterious past and it's bigotry is quite entertaining. There's only one problem.

    The rest of the movie is bad.

    Not so bad it's awful but this isn't so much a B-movie as a C-movie with a budget to match. In some ways, the limited budget has beneficial effect as it feels slightly more dream-like and surreal in places as if you're following the protagonist with a camcorder. Unfortunately, this isn't up to even television's standards of acting quality with rare exceptions.

A genuinely creepy moment and great use of cheap special effects.
     Of note, the stunt casting of Tori Spelling as a seductive Deep One hybrid barking up the wrong tree caused me to do a double take and made me wonder if she was thrown in for the heterosexual male members of the audience.

    If so, thanks.

     The majority of the movie is bogged down by poor acting, weak special effects, and questionable storytelling choices. The only real positive I can say is there's genuinely effective moments despite the limitations of the filmmakers. The moment when the Deep Ones come out of the ocean, the horrific fate of several sympathetic characters, and the implied (ongoing) end of the world are all well-handled. Oh and Russel's actor does an excellent job in playing the tortured son of the Esoteric Order of Dagon's leader, showing he deserved to be in a better movie.

     In conclusion, Cthulhu is a film whose storytelling reach exceeds its technical grasp. I'd, honestly, like to see a remake of this film with the same subtext transplanted to a higher budget film with a more established cast. As it is, the movie is worth watching but only as a curiosity. I wish the participants nothing but the best in future endeavors, though.


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