Glorious can be classed under H.P. Lovcraft, playing out as a hangover from his fictional city R’Lyeh. Over a generally brisk 80 minutes, director Rebekah McKendry carves out an intermittently enjoyable cosmic horror comedy. Most of the jokes land, though are spread thin. The horror, as verbose as it is bleak, as bloody as it is expository, offers the kind of generic thrills typically well-received at horror festivals. If your expectations are sufficiently checked, it is nonetheless an enjoyably pulpy chamber piece.
Wes (Ryan Kwanten) is down on his luck. Recently broken up with his girlfriend, he seems to be living in his car. We meet him pulling up to a rest area along Route 38, somewhere in the United States. The opening minutes are purely functional, relying on the kind of shorthand horror writers have been exploiting since Cthulhu was a pup. The disorienting dream sequence that opens the film is soon followed by the vaguely redneck loner giving our hero some hard-won wisdom. Our heartbroken man gets drunk, inadvertently torches his trousers, and hurries off into the public toilet from which he will never emerge.
As a location, a rest stop toilet is inspired. That we have not yet had a horror film set within these confines is surprising. It is an unpleasant place to vomit after a long night of drowning your sorrows, all the more so when an apparently omniscient voice speaks to you through a glory hole into the adjacent stall. The voice is that of Ghatanothoa (J.K. Simmons) a self-proclaimed god, though technically a titan. We come to learn much about Ghatanothoa, in an animated sequence sure to pad somebody’s CV, but all we need to know is that it is a being that brings death, the corporeal form of which needs to be satisfied to save all life in the universe.
Glorious is most successful in its comedic conceits. A sequence where Wes attempts to escape through a vent, only to end up back where he started is told with enough visual acuity to elicit a chuckle. A portentous monologue intercut with Wes using a urinal strikes an appropriately low-brow chord. It is only a shame the gags are so easily enumerated. The most prolonged joke is the central premiss. Wes interprets satisfying the god’s corporeal form in the only way available to him. What else is a glory hole for? The writers (there are three credited, one also called McKendry) pull the rug out from under Wes, setting up a delightfully droll final anatomical punchline.
As having three credited writers suggests, the film sounds very written. J.K. Simmons, as an example, spends an extended period outlining the cosmology of the universe. This is where Glorious fails hardest as cosmic horror. “The oldest and strongest kind of fear,” according to H.P. Lovecraft, “is fear of the unknown.” Ghatanothoa is at pains to make itself understood to Wes, lest there be no plot. This is only exacerbated by the superfluous twist arriving minutes before the final credit. What is unknowable is also unspeakable. Part of what makes supernatural horror so compelling is that cosmic forces cannot be rationalised in human terms. The victim in such a story is unwitting, insofar as whatever happens is inexplicable, impersonal. Glorious ends on a very different note, one which undercuts this tendency. Wes is not so much at the whim of indifferent cosmic forces as he is the recipient of a final, even divine, moral judgement.
In what is essentially a two-hander, it is Ryan Kwanten who is expected to carry the weight. Despite his lengthy filmography, he is not up to the task. He is a passable, brown-haired, bearded dude. That he is performing a script with an unfortunate tendency to simply describe what is happening on screen only draws attention to this. In one scene, to which I will return shortly, the lights go out, prompting a character to ponder: “What the hell is happening to the lights?” Perceptive, yet redundant. Or, in a bid to appeal to the younger generation: “Well, that’s ominous as fuck.”
That first quote comes from the property supervisor, Gary (André Lamar). He arrives on the scene during a routine inspection of the rest area, only to be inadvertently pulled into the scenario. Up to this point, Glorious is the odd horror film without a body count. Given the creaky construction of the script, and bearing in mind the cliché-riddled opening, it is time for Ghatanothoa to demonstrate his destructive powers. The set gets bloody, most of Gary exits the film. It is no more mean-spirited than your average low-budget fright fest, but it stands out in a film otherwise built around verbal action. If there is one overarching criticism of the film, it is that any individual aspect feels like a box being ticked. Tragic backstory. Gory death. Computer-generated monster. Practical wound effect. It is all there. All the same, Glorious neither overstretches its conceit nor overstays its welcome. No new ground is broken, but if the trailer appeals to you, there is plenty to like.
Glorious is streaming on Shudder from the 15th of August.