At the Bucheon Film Festival (PIFF) I saw The Whisperer in the Darkness, which is an adaptation of a short story by H. P. Lovecraft of Cthulu fame. The movie was produced by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, and is actually shot in the style of movies from the 1950s and back. Filmed in black and white, the movie uses no CGI but instead uses puppetry and other special effects early film makers would have used. The film score and the style of acting (over acting in their speaking, etc) is also reflective of this time period. The society previously did an adaptation of Lovecraft’s most famous story, Call of Cthulu, shot as a silent film.
The movie opens with narration from main character Albert Wilmarth, professor of folklore at New England’s Miskatonic Univeristy, a fictitious University and common setting in many Lovecraft stories. After some heavy rains in Vermont, some people claim to sea bodies of strange creatures in the river that are apparently similar to creatures in local lore.
In an inventive deviation from the short story, Wilmarth has a radio debate with Charles Fort, a real life writer who investigated unknown phenomenon. Today the word Fortean is associated with strange phenomenon. After being embarrassed in the debate, we learn that Wilmarth has had a letter correspondence with one Henry Akeley, a Vermont Farmer who claims to have seen these creatures alive.
A skeptical Wilmarth travels to Vermont, where the rest of the movie takes place. Naturally he learns the horrible truth and discovers the maddening plot.
Overall it’s an effective adaptation of one of Lovecraft’s most interesting stories. Some liberties are naturally taken, for instance Lovecraft could not or simply would not write women, so this needed to be corrected. The ending is expanded upon with nice twist.
To watch a movie today done with pre-CGI special effects that are still effective is quiet satisfying. The creatures have the classic slow reveal, seen only in parts or in shadows. The final reveal however was awkward, as we see many creatures at once and seen from a distance. (There was also a moment when a creature knocked Wilmarth down, but then walked away ignoring him, that was a little confusing.)
Lovecraftian horror is different from other types of horror, in that the fear is not based on death, but on madness. This film does try to convey that type of fear, that sense that there are hideous truths that, if discovered, would drive us insane. There were moments that were generally startling, but there could have been more. Towards the end there’s a lot of exposition, and the pacing could have been sharper to add a few more scares. Akeley’s performance at the end is creepy, except for this strange laugh he did. It was supposed to be menacing, but the audience was laughing.
The narration sounds a little awkward at times, but the leads performance is good. At times he seemed to be channeling John Ritter. One problem his arc had was that he seemed to quick to jump from skeptic to believer. This was the type of movie that could play out that conflict well.
Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos may be fictions first shared universe, predating the Marvel and DC universe of comic books, Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. In the beginning there are some references to other Lovecraft stories, (Cthulu is mentioned) but most of them aren’t distracting if you don’t know them. One that is distracting relates to Wilmarth’s supervisor at the college, who warns him not to do the radio debate and to not investigate the Vermont incidents. This is a very strong character, whose apparently had some horrible encounter before, which he has physical evidence for. I’m not sure what story this was referencing, but it was a little distracting and could have been explained better.
I want to coin a phrase for this style of film making, where you purposely make it look like an old movie, but the phrase escapes me. It’s a daring experiment, this type of movie will never be a blockbuster, but it will always have an audience. I hope more movies get made in this style. 8.5/10.
I may have one more review from PIFF this week.