by Tony Dayoub
Cthulhu is an innovative low-budget horror film that discomfits one with its rawness. Loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft's "Shadow Over Innsmouth", it is the first film by director Daniel Gildark. Filmed throughout the northwest, it is a moody chiller with some gay themes stirred in. In many respects, the insular world of the island where the film takes place reminds me of the apartment in Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965). It's a lonely world that reflects the main character's turmoil with his repressed sexuality.
Russ Marsh (Jason Cottle) is a college professor who left his sad past behind when he left his island hometown off the coast of Oregon. Returning for his mother's funeral, he reunites with his sister Dannie (Cara Buono), childhood classmate Susan (Tori Spelling), and Mike (Scott Green), a onetime flame, who is now divorced, working as a tow truck driver. His father, the Reverend Marsh (Dennis Kleinsmith) is also seeking to reconnect. Is it just because of his hope that Russ will join his New Age cult, or is it because of something even more sinister?
Cthulhu is the monstrous high priest of the mythical Old Ones, horrible aliens that ruled the Earth before we ever set foot on it. It is said that to see him is to go insane. Think of the giant, horrific monster that crosses the heroes' path, in The Mist (2007), as they head down the highway in the climax. Its presence can be felt throughout this dark film, as Russ starts piecing together the townspeople's connection to the legend of the Old Ones. But are the foreboding events that affect him signifiers of the apocalypse, or something deeper in Russ's psyche?
Just as Carol's repressed sexuality affects her sanity in Repulsion, Russ's turmoil over his own homosexuality may be affecting his. Indications of this are demonstrated in several ways. The most obvious are the vehement arguments between him and his dad. The Reverend seems to want Russ to join his cult in part to "cure" him of his sexual inclination. His ambivalence regarding heterosexual desire is personified in the sexy Susan, who with her paraplegic husband, are hoping to have Russ father their child, by force if necessary. And his tryst with Mike midway through the film is explained away as more of a nostalgic attempt at recapturing their youth, than a direct admission of their love for one another. At least it's explained away by Mike, but Russ isn't forceful in arguing against that explanation.
Recurring imagery bolsters this theory. First we see Russ, with long hair, gazing at his reflection in the mirror, shaving his head when he is unhappy with what he sees. When Russ sees his reflection again, it is in a mystical cascading waterfall that seems to unite our world with Cthulhu's. This time, Russ is more accepting of his reflection, reaching towards it as pictured above. When he sleeps he has nightmares regarding a stone cudgel that seems to be associated with his father's cult, and ties them to ritual sacrifices to Cthulhu. He even awakens to find the phallic cudgel in his bed, momentarily driving him mad with fright. The subtext finally becomes explicit when Russ must make a climactic decision between following his father's way of life or loving Mike.
Gildark's Cthulhu is a unique addition to the many Lovecraft adaptations, and an admirable indie worth checking out.
Cthulhu is in limited release and opens today in Atlanta, Portland, and Seattle. It opens in Denver on 9/26.
Still provided courtesy of Regent Releasing.