Monday, September 3, 2012

The Whisperer In Darkness (2011)

I love H.P. Lovecraft. His ability to create an overbearing sense of fear and dread may very well be unmatched. Each page is a terrifying descent into madness. The life of the writer was a troubled one of poverty, never getting the notoriety he deserved. Of course he has since received his due credit as a true master of horror and science-fiction but the adaptations of his work for the screen is hit or miss at best. There have been great films made based off his writings such as Re-Animator from director Stuart Gordon (who has done several other HPL adaptations or works that are clearly inspired by him) but even this movie doesn't capture Lovecraft. There have also been the adaptations that are just plain crap such as every film version of The Dunwich Horror. Rarely has a movie adapted his work into a great movie that captures the spirit and essence of his writing. THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS does just that.

For those of you not familiar with the story here is a brief summary. Albert Wilmarth is a professor at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts. where he focuses on folklore and legends. Wilmarth has been corresponding with Henry Akeley of Vermont via letters for some time. Akeley claims that a group of flying crab-like creatures is terrorizing the area and specifically him and his farm. As the letters become more desperate Wilmarth is caught off guard when he receives a typed letter from Akeley with a much calmer tone inviting him to visit and discuss their findings on the matter. Wilmarth, who has been conducting research with various items sent to him by Akeley (not always through the mail since Akeley's mail is being interfered with), goes to the farm to discover the true interstellar nature of the situation and the horror he has walked in to.

That is the gist of it without spoiling the twists and turns. It is one of the longest stories by Lovecraft and it is entirely engaging and tense. The dread and paranoia builds with each letter you read between the two until the climax brings it all to a horrific end that leaves you wanting more. The film adaptation here, produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society (responsible for a brilliant silent film adaptation of The Call Of Cthulhu) does much of the same while expanding the story. Wilmarth is approached by Henry Akeley's son who pleads with him to take his father seriously. After showing Wilmarth, and several other notable minds, some photographs he leaves a phonograph recording with Wilmarth. This is said to be the creatures talking. Eventually the typed letter inviting the professor up to Vermont arrives and Wilmarth boards a train to oblige his host. When he arrives he is met by a man named Noys, who was sent by Akeley to pick up his guest since he was ill. When Wilmarth arrives he has a conversation with his host that leaves him uneasy, and then a subsequent conversation that tells the truth of what is happening. This leaves Wilmarth in a confused, terrified frame of mind that is only made worse when he hears mysterious talking in the middle of the night and sees shadows of things he could only dream of.

Shortly after that is when the story ends in Lovecraft's short story. In the film we are only about halfway as they expand the story in to a vintage style creature feature while maintaining the integrity of the story and film. Wilmarth sets out to stop the evil plans of the small cult and monsters he's encountered at all costs. After receiving some help from a young girl who's father is mixed up in this mess he finds the hidden lair and does his best to destroy it.

THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS is a largely successful film and adaptation. The two biggest flaws in the film are rushing through the correspondence between Wilmarth and Akeley in the beginning. The story is set at this point and the feeling of dread is established. In the film it comes across as an after thought and any chance of setting up tension early is wasted. The other is fleshing out the monsters at the end. Lovecraft has a very "less is more" quality to his writing and seeing only glimpses or shadows of the monsters would not only be more effective it would have kept their very low budget CGI look hidden. That said, the movie is able to create that fear in the viewer and the monsters being fleshed out isn't a major deal breaker. The company is able to create a beautiful looking film that is very reminiscent of the period it's set in on a tight budget. A large concern I had coming into the film was the acting. The company's other feature film, the aforementioned The Call Of Cthulhu, was a silent film. Dialogue was of no concern. My fears were to put to rest early when Matt Foyer began his excellent portrayal of Albert Wilmarth. He was a true stand out. The rest of the cast was on point too. This was just a well made independent film on all levels.

While this film is far from perfect, it does a nice job of feeling like an early talkie without being corny about it. It isn't a perfect adaptation and some decisions made in the production are questionable but damn if it isn't a really good one. You can easily see the love and respect the whole crew has for the source material. Whether you're a fan of Lovecraft or just interested in a great horror/sci-fi movie that is different from most things being made these days you need to check out THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS.


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