A majority of disappointing independent films, when they fail on a story or narrative level, suffer from one of two problems. The first is a lack of ambition; a film which has one idea and attempts to stretch it out to a full runtime without having a notion as to what would make that idea worth spending so much time with. The inverse of that folly is an overabundance of ambition; a film sees in its story the potential for so much context and meaning that it overloads its tale with theme and meaning, crushing the weight of its plot beneath all that it hopes to discuss.
I suppose it is damning with slight praise to say that you fall under the latter category.
Yes, Cthulhu, it is true, you are something of a disappointment. It pains me to say this for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that you obviously do have some skill behind you. There are scenes within you that have the potential to resonate not only as scenes of oddity and horror, but also as social commentary which your story is uniquely suited to deliver. Instead, you dilute or otherwise mishandle your elements to the point that, at the end of it all, a viewer can only be left wondering what precisely you meant to say, what moral or idea you hoped to leave us with.
In a very vague sense you are a re-appropriation and reinterpretation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Russ, a professor at a prestigious college, is brought home by a tragedy, the death of his mother. We learn as time goes on that he left home under a dark cloud; his father, a prominent church leader, and the entire town were openly hostile toward his coming out as a homosexual. The moment he arrives in town he is prepared to leave, and yet is distressed to learn that he has to stay the week due to legal matters revolving around his mother’s estate. This is plenty of time to rediscover all of his reasons for disliking the town, not to mention time for all of his old friends and family to slowly chip away at his composure and peace of mind.
This is a situation ripe for exploitation and controversy, and yet you never settle on a path to take in terms of the source of Russ’ mounting madness. There is of course the immense societal pressure exerted upon him by his insular, tightly bound community regarding his homosexuality. Also his father and sister’s seeming inability to simply accept him despite his academic accomplishments. Then there is the mysterious nature of his father’s church, the disappearance of a young boy, and the fact that the world is on the verge of collapse. Through radio news clips we learn that global warming had brought the world to its knees, with temperatures soaring, ocean levels rising, and global political unrest at an all time high.
All of these elements could be brought together into a compelling, cohesive story, but due to your lack of finesse in helping them to coalesce into a proper story we instead get an episodic, disconnected series of events rather than a logical, meaningful progression toward a dramatic climax. Russ’ sexuality is brought up now and then, but aside from driving a wedge between him and other characters its purpose or meaning in the plot is left unfulfilled. His love story is half-baked and difficult to engage with because it is so thin and metastasizes out of nowhere. The elements are there – the recollections of youthful longing, the rekindled friendship – but either the actors or the script fail to really do the story justice.
The same is true of just about every other possible point of interest or engagement. We are introduced to the elements of the story very economically and precisely at first, but as time goes on you seem to forget about them until right before the end of the film. The global unrest is talked about on the radio, but never by characters, muddying the supposed impact of the warming planet on the characters or world at large. Russ’ father gets only one really telling moment of exposition regarding his church. Only two external characters are given the opportunity to drop hints about the evil lurking beneath the town, but aside from their words and a few glimpses of robed practitioners we as an audience are never given a glimpse of this church’s effect on the town. By the time things begin to go truly bad, by the time the horrific truth at the heart of your story is revealed, your audience had sadly been left too far behind with too little information for the impact of the final moments to be as poignant or harrowing as they ought to be.
Which is a shame because, as I said, all of the elements are in place for you to be a good film. Your production values are excellent for a low budget film, and while some of your supporting actors are hammy and broad the rest of your cast does a pretty good job of bringing their characters to life. The very idea at the heart of your story is timely, laden with interesting subtext, and endlessly creepy, yet you just couldn’t pull off the delicate balance of revelation and mystery needed to pull it through. You couldn’t steadily, continuously drip information out that would allow our own sense of wonder and fear mingle properly with Russ’. Instead we watched a man reacting to things which we understand abstractly, but which we do not empathize with. That emotional disconnect effectively destroys whatever hope for redemption you had following the realization that you couldn’t pull off your attempt at melding your various focuses into a single, grand vision.
Would I recommend you to someone? Maybe. You have moments of genuine creepiness, and as I said you rise above the level of the common independent, low budget adaptation in many ways. However, given the feeling of disappointment I experience every time I take a moment to examine the movie you might have been versus the movie you are, I would do my best to dampen expectations before giving a recommendation.
Sorry it didn’t work out,
Brian J. Roan