Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011)


Professor Albert Wilmarth is a skeptic. He is an expert in folklore, but he knows better than to actually believe any of that nonsense. So when tales surface of strange happenings in the hills of Vermont, Wilmarth is, shall we say, unimpressed by the backwoods citizens' claims that they've discovered bizarre tracks and monstrous corpses. Until, that is, he starts getting letters from Henry Akeley, a surprisingly rational and intelligent denizen of the area in question, whose son shows up with evidence to back up his father's claims: a recording of an unearthly voice incanting an unknown language, as well as a few photographs of the strange tracks these beings leave behind. Further correspondence bolsters Akeley's claims--tales of midnight gunfights, dogs gone missing, and a curious whispering in the dark. Wilmarth finally decides to venture into the Vermont hills to see for himself... but what will he find?

Based on H.P. Lovecraft's well-known short story "The Whisperer in Darkness", this film is the second produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society--their first film being the excellent The Call of Cthulhu (2005). As with the first movie, the filmmakers decided to tailor the medium to the time period in which the story was written. The Call of Cthulhu (written in 1926) was a silent film; The Whisperer in Darkness (written in 1930) is shot with sound, but in black and white, using a combination of vintage and modern techniques to give it the appropriate period feel.

Unfortunately, The Whisperer in Darkness doesn't live up to its predecessor. The filmmakers apparently decided that Lovecraft had only given them the first two acts of the story, and took it upon themselves to create the climactic third act, full of action sequences that, frankly, have no place in a Lovecraft story.

Lovecraft was fond of concluding his stories with the discovery of some horror or other by the narrator, at which point the narrator is mercifully saved (by a cleansing bolt of lightning or a convenient fainting spell) from the madness his discovery would normally produce. These narrators usually escape physically, but are haunted by the knowledge of their discovery for the rest of their days. There is rarely any actual 'showdown.' This is the case with "The Whisperer in Darkness"--Wilmarth discovers the horrible truth and flees. The climax is not any action by Wilmarth, but the facts he discovers, and the implied (eventual) consequences for the human race. Instead, in this version, Wilmarth morphs into some sort of Lovecraftian Indiana Jones, taking on the evil creatures with the aid of a biplane and a child sidekick sidekick.

Fortunately, the filmmakers' mangling of this story doesn't lead them to fashion an actual happy ending. That would indeed be a bridge too far. Still, it's a shame they didn't have more respect for the source material. Granted, Lovecraft was well-known for encouraging others to use and explore the mythos he created. And the filmmakers may well be right that the addition of the 'new' third act makes for a better movie. But with so many great Lovecraft stories out there (and I would argue that "The Whisperer in the Darkness" is not one of his best), why not pick one that's already got a good movie plot built in? Some of the best stories--"The Shadow Over Innsmouth", "The Thing on the Doorstep", and "The Haunter of the Dark", just to name a few--would make fantastic movies with little or no tweaking.

And cheaper movies, too; I'm fairly certain that a significant portion of the budget for this film was dedicated to the production of the completely unnecessary third act (though I admit that the 'monsters' were much more interesting and scary in flight than they were bumbling around a Vermont living room).  Still, the flying monsters (and the biplane) were expenses that could have been avoided entirely by either a) sticking with the story as Lovecraft wrote it, or b) picking a better story to adapt.

It pains me to be critical of something produced by The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society--I know they are incredibly devoted to Lovecraft's work, and they've invested a ton of time and money into getting the word out about him and adapting his works for radio and film. And I'm particularly loath to speak ill of producer Andrew Leman, whose inimitable narration (and delightful guest hosting) over at the deeply hilarious (yet also deliciously creepy) H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast has brought me hours of enjoyment. But the final act of this film is both unnecessary and, to me at least, unwelcome.

Also, they completely left out the part about the dogs in gas masks, which simply unforgivable.

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