The Call of Cthulhu
They say that variety is the spice of life. In a continuing attempt to embrace that variety here with One Movie Each Day, I’ve decided to dedicate each Wednesday review to the stranger side of cinema, the type of movies that I’d never normally watch, but that I’m kind of secretly glad exist. In celebration or in condemnation of the eccentric, the odd, the freaky, the kinky, the ghastly, the freaky, the fearful, the flaky, and the freaky and now once again actually on a Wednesday, I present this, the twelfth edition of Wednesday Weirdness.
All of a sudden I seem to be reviewing a lot of silent movies. That wasn’t something I set out to do. In fact, after last week’s misplaced edition of Wednesday Weirdness I intended to take things in an entirely different direction today. In fact, I was half-way through a moderately-campy low-budget 90’s action-thriller called Fugitive Mind when I realized: 1) it wasn’t so much weird as really bad, 2) it wasn’t so much really bad as unwatchable, and 3) despite having an MPAA rating it was a direct-to-video release, (as near as I can tell,) never had any kind of a theatrical release, so it’d be cheating to count it as my movie for today. This solved one problem; I didn’t have to keep watching that lousy movie. However, it created another one; I had used up a good chunk of the time I’d set aside to watch a movie. Fortunately I had another weird movie lined up that would fit nicely into the time available. Unfortunately it meant reviewing a 1920’s style silent movie for the second week in a row. The twist being that today’s movie, The Call of Cthulhu was actually produced and released in 2005.
I’ve never actually read anything by H. P. Lovecraft, but I pay enough attention to popular culture to at least be familiar with the broad strokes of the man’s work. When I first saw the poster for today’s movie pop-up as a recommendation on Netflix, I assumed that it was an old movie, and that the 2005 date referred to a re-release date or somesuch. As I have learned, though, the film was indeed produced less than a decade ago, but deliberately imitated the style and techniques of a silent film from the 20’s. Depending on which source you’re reading, this was either done to show what the movie would have looked like had it been produced when Lovecraft’s original short story was published in 1926, or because it allowed the film to be produced on very small budget. I’m inclined to believe that both explanations have merit, though the bottom line is, (no doubt,) the bottom line.
The film is presented from the point of view of an unnamed protagonist in a mental institution; through a series of nested flashbacks he recounts a series of bizarre incidents concerning a dark and mysterious Cult of Cthulhu. The structure is fairly complex, at one point we are watching a third-hand account in the form of a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. Despite this, the narrative is solid enough that it all makes as much sense as possible. The storyteller (I suppose I can’t really call him a narrator) shares a series of increasingly bizarre incidents that either he, or his great-uncle had investigated over the previous decades, that increase in suspense until a final encounter that is both chilling and visually impressive.
The entire venture is very creative, and the presentation as grainy black and white footage combined with only a subtle musical score do well to contribute to the aura of misanthropic, and, well, Lovecraftian horror that steadily grows through the course of the film. The silent format represents a bold decision by the filmmakers, and it generally pays-off.
All this is not to say that the film is perfect. In a lot of ways it feels more like a well made fan-film than an honest-to-goodness cinematic endeavor. Although the format makes it somewhat hard to judge, Andrew Leman’s direction seems sloppy at times. As a silent film the film suffers by being too heavy with dialogue, there’s a lot of reading of intertitles to do, especially in the middle third of the film. Some are displayed far to little time, I think I’m a fairly fast reader, but there were still several occasions where I was only half way through a segment of displayed dialogue before it was whisked away. This was very distracting because I felt like I was missing a lot of what was going on, even though it probably wasn’t all that much.
Still, the film deserves credit for an admirable emulation of a 1920’s silent film. Having watched two of the genuine article already this month, I feel fairly well attuned to what they were going for, and there were several nice little touches that I probably wouldn’t have caught otherwise. This film is largely successful in taking a story that seems “un-filmable” and adapting it to the screen. At the end of the day, this is a film that strides the line between fan-film and professional production. It employs a clever cinematic gimmick that hides some of its faults while being entirely appropriate to the subject matter. The pacing is a little off, sometimes it feels rushed; while it gets a little slow at other times. Fortunately, it’s short enough that this doesn’t become too much of an issue. I’m not sure that this movie is particularly good, but it gets points for effort and creativity. It’s certainly memorable. Plus, the filmmakers care deeply about their source material, and it shows. So, all together I would say that The Call of Cthulhu is worth seeing.