The Call of Cthulhu (2005)
I popped this movie in because it was late and I didn’t have the stamina for a full-length film.
I have an affinity for micro-budget fan projects where a group of fans get together, bonded by nothing more than pluck and a ravenous enthusiasm for their subject matter, and pitch in to make a little movie. Whether or not great cinema happens, it still inevitably ends up with the same charm as … I don’t know … let’s say a silent film from the early days of filmmaking, when people were first figuring out what the medium could do and experimented in their basements. The same ingenuity is at work.
This follows H.P. Lovecraft’s most famous short story, The Call of Cthulhu, which introduced his Cthulhu mythos of creatures from an alternate dimension. These creatures that are so incredibly powerful that humanity is doomed to extinction by comparison. The horror comes from putting us in the shoes of an inferior species. When you’re no longer at the top of the food chain, everyday life seems alternately terrifying and futile and dreadful.
They strike this tone quite well in this movie. Time jumps around a bit as several men’s fascination with the Cthulhu legend and a diary, writings and compel them to travel to find the source of this ancient evil and the cult surrounding it. A Hollywood film with this subject matter could be terrifying. There’s not much hope that a group of amateurs could do it without coming off cheesy. So I think their decision to go the silent-movie route works beautifully. It also anchors the story in roughly the same time period that it takes place, when all movies were silent, so it makes perfect creative sense as well.
On to the technical. The filmmakers clearly used silent movie-era techniques to achieve the special effects. The staging is accurate. The score is spot-on. There’s little to no camera motion and theatrical framing of the shots. There’s an all-too-short but charming stop-motion creature effect, forced perspective camera tricks, and even some of those old-fashioned George Melies-eque practical effects that work better on a live stage than in a film. And what more could a spunky group of amateurs achieve in a fan film? So in this case, they’ve managed to make their limitations work comfortably within the medium. You won’t be distracted by any of this – you’ll simply enjoy it for what it is all the more, and the fact that they stayed true to the concept.
Acting style is spot on, as is the lighting and set design. My only beef is that, whatever Mythoscope is supposed to be, there are much more convincing ways to achieve a true silent-movie look. It’s more than just black and white, film grain and adding a little flicker to the image. Video is too sharp. Silent films were often shot at a different frame rate than they were projected, which is why there was often a jumpiness to the action (think of old Chaplin films) that was missing here. Also, today’s lenses have a much wider depth-of-field than back then, so less of the picture would have been in focus. Those subtleties were missing but would’ve been so easy to replicate. I just wanted to grab the video footage and do it for them.
In all, the movie was just the right length. It had all of Lovecraft’s dreary mood with none of the racism. I enjoyed it as a fun genre piece with just the right spirit. Honestly, it made me wish I had been in on the action. I’m glad Netflix is willing to give projects like this the wider distribution that they deserve.
Now that you’ve seen the film…
If you want to read more about the making of this film, there’s a nice little series of blog posts here.