Monday, October 4, 2010

The Call of Cthulhu

Based on the famous H.P. Lovecraft short story, this short film tells what happens when mankind comes face to face with a subterranean monster of unfathomable size and power. Made in 2005, it was shot to look like an old silent film.

I'm torn on the silent film gimmick employed in The Call of Cthulu. On the one hand, it lends some interest to the film. It allows the filmmakers to go for a German expressionism-y vibe in a few key sequences that they might not have pulled off otherwise. It also seems like a clever way to mask the film's low budget; the special effects aren't very impressive, but they don't need to be, because it's supposed to look old fashioned.

On the other hand... it never rises above the level of gimmick. They go so far as to add fake scratches to the film, but you're never going to mistake this for the genuine article. The film quality does not look authentically old, the editing and camera angles are often too modern in style, there appear to be some computer generated special effects. It's obvious the filmmakers weren't really trying to utilize an out-of-fashion style for its strengths, they just thought it would be cool to make a movie that looks older than it is. Sort of like in Grindhouse, the artifice doesn't end up adding much to the film past some superficial curiosity. They made a fake silent film when they should have made a real one. It's possible to make a silent film today without resorting to the pretense of being a lost film from the 20's: for a good example, see the middle segment of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Three Times.

It's been a while since I've read the short story, but my sense is that this movie is a little too faithful to it, to the degree that they don't make the story cinematic enough. Most obviously, it retains the story's needlessly complicated flashback-within-a-flashback-within-a-flashback structure, which was sort of a hallmark of Lovecraft's because, technically speaking, he wasn't a very good writer. Because of the structure, the movie has to resort to using extended bits of narration, which appear as intertitles, to explain the story, rather than conveying the story visually. Its not the most cinematic means of communication to make the viewer have to read this much; then again, if Carl Dreyer can do it in Vampyr, I guess these guys can cite precedence.

Still, the movie is kind of fun and atmospheric in places, and different than most things you'll see these days. It doesn't come anywhere near what a silent horror film can accomplish, but it was nice to see someone try.

Grade: B -

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