It is odd to think about what an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s work would have looked like had it been made concurrent with his story’s publication. Today we are accustomed to novels, short stories or comics being optioned for adaptations before they are even published, sometimes even written. Cowboys & Aliens was based on the cover art for an as-yet unwritten work, for God’s sakes. But even in our modern era, with all of its computer generated effects and inflated budgets, someone has yet to really deliver a Lovecraft adaptation that reaches the pinnacle of tent-pole funding. So what if such a force had been marshaled to make a film adaptation of what is arguably Lovecraft’s most famous story when it had been written?
You endeavor to answer that question, while at the same time providing an engaging piece of throwback entertainment, to mostly agreeable results. Of course you must submit to the limits of your budget and your clearly independent status, but you use your conceit of being a silent production as a capable balm for many of these problems. Still, on the whole I found you a very winning, enjoyable selection.
However the caveat for that recommendation should be that you’re best suited for those who know of the story “The Call of Cthulhu” already. The distance created by the silent narrative might stop those not already familiar with the tale from becoming engaged. The very fact that you are silent may also turn off some people all together – those same type of people who balk at the idea of subtitles.
In terms of your adaptation, you stay faithful to the source and yet imbue an energy of obvious love and affection for the material. All of the actors capture the spirit of both the characters and the style of acting used in old motion pictures. The set design, editing, camera work and special effects likewise reach this same level of fidelity to era and tale. The whole becomes a rather endearing and interesting play-acting of the strange tale of a young man searching for meaning in a crate of artifacts and notes left to him by his dead uncle.
A great deal of your success comes from your score, which must pick up the slack left by the absence of dialogue. The music is a playful and evocative aspect of your narrative, in keeping with the lightly adventurous tone of the proceedings while also plucking at the more dark and sinister truth behind the goings ons. It is actually very indicative of the tone and spirit of your production as a whole. There is an obvious tone of homage and reverence, but also a lot of fun and almost a sort of giddy excitement in your proceedings. The dark, existentially terrifying truth held in the heart of your story is blunted, and therefore made more palatable, through the way in which it is presented. For instance, a scene revolving around a cult ritual in the woods is given the action-adventure feel of the original 1933 version of King Kong, rather than the wretched, horrific trappings of the 2005 remake. This is an intelligent choice, and indicative of the cleverness with which your creators approached you.
Your brisk pace and diminished run time, in combination with your silent conceit and the embracing of your campy effects makes you the perfect Lovecraftian snack for hardcore fans of the mythos. You offer them up the things that they would most want from a strict, almost note for note adaptation, but without asking them to stretch their credulity over the lack of effects funding. You allow for a degree of enjoyment in terms of storytelling without asking for the emotional investment in a character that would be required for a larger feature. You are a labor of love, created for and meant for consumption by those who are already on board with Lovecraft’s cult status. You thrive off of an appreciation for the care taken in translating a work, living symbiotically off of the audience’s love of the story you are based on while somehow avoiding having to use that affection as a crutch.
Someday you will make a wonderful double-feature with a modern, intense, harrowing, dark version of the tale given a full studio-backing, as a means of showing just how different and yet equally enjoyable a story can be interpreted by a filmmaker. For now, though, you act as a light, admirable artifact that shows just what has kept Lovecraft relevant after so long a time – love.
With fond affection,
Brian J. Roan