You’re sort of a weird film. And I don’t mean that in terms of content or narrative or anything else that has to do with your actual self. What I mean is that many years ago I saw a commercial for you on television and thought you looked interesting. I researched you and found out that you were based on a short story by an author named H.P. Lovecraft. Not long after that I went to the book store and bought an anthology of his short stories. Now here we are, untold years later, and I have read almost everything Lovecraft has ever written and somehow had failed to see you.
Now I have seen and heard of other adaptations of Lovecraft’s work, and the general consensus is that the bulk of them are miserable. All of the man’s work is in the public domain, so any independent filmmaker with twenty bucks and a camera can have a go at his material. So I think the words “concern” and “trepidation” are not unwarranted in describing how I felt when approaching you. I felt like I owed you a fair shot, and I was aware of the circumstances surrounding your creation, but I also knew that I have a low threshold for lazy, derivative filmmaking.
Luckily, I don’t have to be too harsh on you. There are obvious limitations to creating a Lovecraftian horror film on a limited budget. Your tale, based off of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, involves an entire city of people who have become half-fish-monster, and who pray to a reptilian underwater god named Dagon, and make human sacrifices to a race of deep-dwelling amphibious monstrosities. The level of special effects and makeup work that would have to be done to achieve this on a normal scale film would be massive, so it is no surprise that you falter a bit. Expanding the story also brings its own challenges.
In terms of narrative, you do all of the things one would expect a film based on a short story to do. In the story there is a single character who visits a seaside New England town with a dark secret. He finds himself pursued by the corrupted townsfolk and must make a daring escape. You move the action to a seaside town in Spain, and add three more characters to the mix. Romance is also thrown in, and you inflate a subtler subplot from the story to give it more narrative influence. The new characters are not overburdening to the plot, which is a nice change of pace, and the romance deepens the emotional impact of your later twists and turns. In all, your story remains faithful while inflating just enough to keep you from feeling overly draggy.
Some of your visual aspects work surprisingly well, as well. The seaside town is suitably decrepit and ancient looking, corrupted and bleak. Likewise some of the more modest makeup effects for the townspeople (including their unblinking eyes) is well used. Some of the work done on the more drastically changed townspeople shows the limits of your budget, and while the failings aren’t laughably bad, they are enough to pull me out of the movie for a moment.
Speaking of things that aren’t great but don’t sink you completely, your acting rises above the level one might expect. Nuance is not really something these actors are well-versed in, but in a story like this nuance is not entirely necessary. Still. some scenes suffer from a hamminess that could have been trimmed a bit.
But where you make up for these deficiencies is in your unflinching courage in terms of horrific content. A lot of films stray from gore, or use it as a crutch. They back down from thematically disturbing content in the name of playing safe to a larger audience in hopes that that accessibility will make up for the otherwise specialized nature of your story. You, though, show a very intense willingness to go for extremes. It seems as though no topic is out of bounds for you. Sympathetic characters are beaten down and killed in terrible ways with no time for mourning. Terrifying rites and incidents are shown without flinching. You have an straight-faced, earnest rawness that I find appealing and refreshing.Sure you trade the psychological, existential horror of Lovecraft’s story for more mainstream scares, but that might be the only way to bring intangible terror to the screen.
Dagon, you play it straight, and make the most out of what you have. You won’t be won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but I found you a fairly entertaining ride.
Brian J. Roan