After I finished watching the second feature created by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, The Whisperer in Darkness, (read my review of their first movie, The Call of Cthulhu, here) I kept on thinking of another movie I had recently seen, Clash of the Titans. They had a few things in common: they're both based on older stories, people worked long and hard the films, and they were each about a lone man trying to stop untold death and destruction. There are a couple of very significant things that sets these two movies apart however. While Clash of the Titans had a $125,000,000 budget and was pretty awful when it comes to plot, characterization, and acting, The Whisperer in Darkness was done on a shoestring and is excellent all around. It just goes to show that money does not equal quality (not that anyone had to be reminded of that.)
Filmed in glorious black and white, this latest adaptation of a Lovecraft story has the feel of a 1930's early talky horror film. Not the feel you get when you watch one now (and don't get me wrong, many of those old Universal horror films are still great even today) but this movie recreates what it was like to see one of those old creature-feature flicks back when you were 10-years old. It is a fun and chilling movie that will hold up to repeated viewings.
Based on the 1931 short story of the same name, The Whisperer in Darkness is the story of a quite instructor at Miskatonic University in Arkham Massachusetts, Albert Wilmarth (Matt Foyer). He studies folklore and myths and has recently been embroiled in a controversy. After extensive flooding in Vermont, there have been several reported sighting of strange and unearthly creatures floating in the flood waters. He chalks these up to superstition and the local recalling fables they heard as children, but some people insist that these creatures are real. One such person is Henry Akeley (Barry Lynch), farmer from Townshend, Vermont. He sends Wilmarth several letters describing the things that he claims are living around his farm.
One evening Akeley's son, George (Joe Sofranko) shows up in Arkham with more than just descriptions: he has photographs of the crab claw-like footprints that these strange creatures leave as well as a picture of one that his father had killed. Even more, he has a recording of a ceremony that George claims is linked to a local cult that worships the creatures. There are also images of a strange, carved black stone that his father found in the woods and brought back to his house.
Enticed, Wilmark continues corresponding with Akeley. The old man feels that the black stone has some evil properties and agrees to give it to Wilmark. The professor is supposed to meet George at the train station to collect the stone, but he isn't on the train that he was supposed to be on.
Soon after, Wilmark received a strange letter from Akeley, typed instead of hand-written, where the farmer claims to have had a change of heart. He now doesn't mistrust the mysterious creatures and says that they're just misunderstood. He says that he has valuable information for Wilmark, and that the scholar needs to travel to Vermont, bringing the photos and audio recording with him, and that all will be revealed.
Curiosity gets the better part of the professor and he sets off, as instructed. Once in Vermont however, he finds things not only stranger than he'd imagined, but stranger than he could imagine.
This is a great film. It's clear that the creators knew what made Lovecraft's stories so enduring and they were able to get that eerie feeling up on the screen. The film doesn't revolve around the creatures (as Clash of the Titans did) instead it focuses on creating an atmosphere and telling a story. They use glimpses of creatures and shadows until the very end to build the mystery and tension rather than filling the film with quickly forgotten shots of monsters that don't really do anything to advance the story. A feeling of foreboding permeates the movie, and I'm sure that's exactly what the creators were hoping for.
The acting was top-notch. Matt Foyer, who plays Wilmark, stole the show with his portrayal of the researcher. He was serious and restrained in his performance, and managed to make his character seem like he had just stepped out of the 1920's. It's his acting that makes the movie the success that it is.
The other performers did their parts well too. Most surprising was Autumn Wendel who plays the young daughter of a man involved with the conspiracy that Wilmark uncovers. Usually those type of roles are given to the producer's niece or something in independent projects like this one, and it always shows. Not so with Ms. Wendel. She is a solid actress who was able to look realistically terrified without overacting. I was very pleased with her performance.
The look of the movie is very polished. Though the origins of the production sound like someone shouted "hey kids! Let's put on a show!" the final result looks like anything but an amateur construction. The cinematography is excellent and I grew more impressed watching the extras. The whole crew went the extra mile to make sure they created the best film that they could, and it certainly shows.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 was very good. The incidental music and sound effects did a lot to help create an eerie atmosphere for the movie. It was usually raining and the sound of the drizzle coming from the rear speakers was very effective and added a lot to the creepy film. The dialog was clear and easy to hear, and there wasn't any background noise or hiss.
There are subtitles in (get ready for this extensive list...) Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Euskera, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Portugal and Brazilian), Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish.
The 1.78:1 1080p black and white image looked very good. The picture was clear and crisp, and the level of contrast was excellent. There was a very small amount of mosquito noise, but you really had to look for it and only anal reviewers would ever comment on it. Aside from that, there weren't any digital defects. This is a very nice looking disc.
Not willing to just release the film with good a/v quality, the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has included a slew of cool bonus features. First there's a Blu-ray exclusive commentary track by producers David Robertson, Andrew Leman and Sean Branney where they discuss the trials and tribulations of bringing Lovecraft's story to the screen. One the video front, there's a 47-minute behind-the-scenes documentary which is fun and informational as well as several other short featurettes on the making of the film, including a fun piece on shooting the most difficult shot in the whole movie (and no, you won't guess which one it is.) Viewers will find many deleted and extended scenes and trailers too. Altogether this disc has over 2 ½ hours worth of bonuses!
This is another bravura production from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. It has much more in common with The Artist than the SFX laden movie I compared it to in my introduction. Both are excellent movies that successfully recreate an earlier style of filmmaking. Like it's Academy Award-winning contemporary The Whisperer in Darkness does everything right and if it had been theatrically released across the nation, I'm sure it would have made a big splash. Give this one a look. Highly Recommended.