There have been many films conceived, shot, and released since COVID-19 quarantines more or less stopped the world. Some of them put the virus front-and-center (The End of Us), while others used the period as an opportunity to tell a more character-driven story (How It Ends). Glorious is more like the latter, using the isolation as a means of creative exploration to devise a story (in this case by Headless’s Todd Rigney) that’s as much an insular bottle tale with two central protagonists as it is a battle for existence. To accomplish this, and to do it successfully, you need more than an intriguing premise that melds genres into an uncanny concoction that toes the line between the sacred and the profane, jumping back and forth with almost every line of dialogue, every new revelation. Sure, that alone sounds like plenty, but you need total execution that sells the entire preposterous circumstance as real from go. Director Rebekah McKendry (All the Creatures Were Stirring) positively does this by putting out front that Glorious is going to be a wild, brain-melting ride, but doesn’t do it in a way that feels as though the abyss is laughing at you, rather that it’s come with a caring embrace that just so happens to include a ritual sacrifice. You know…like you do.
Wes (Ryan Kwanten) is having a shitty day. After a horrific breakup with his girlfriend, Brenda (Sylvia Grace Crim), he took a drive to anywhere, stopping at a rest area to try to catch his breath. After a particularly rough night of drinking and grieving, he wakes sick and in need of immediate evacuation. Good news: the rest area has a working bathroom. Bad news: in the stall next door to Wes is the enigmatic Ghat (J.K. Simmons) who informs Wes that he can’t leave until Wes satisfies Ghat’s physical needs through a glory hole, which, if successful, may save all existence as we know it.
Let’s get one thing clear: whatever you think Glorious is about, you’re probably wrong. Building off Rigney’s story, screenwriters Joshua Hull (Chopping Block) and David Ian McKendry (All the Creatures Were Stirring) weave together a metaphysical tale that explores the darkest parts of humanity through the lens of aspiration. One might not think that such a film would fit in a midnight movie-esque film, but, I assure you, it works far better than if the film were entirely pitch black in its execution. Glorious is not, for instance, Color Out of Space (2020), a tale of a foreign invasion that mutates and mutilates as it propagates. That said, it does not refrain from the macabre, the twisted, and even the frightful imagery of ethereal beasts capable of great destruction. There is proper horror within Glorious that threatens to break Wes’s mind as he struggles to accept his circumstance, causing him to confront that which he is versus what he thinks himself to be. J.K. Simmon’s Ghat is the abyss and it looks straight through Wes, requiring him to step up to save humanity. What’s fascinating about this is while Hull and Ian McKendry position the narrative through the cosmicism perspective Lovecraft himself prescribed (the idea that humanity as a whole is insignificant in comparison to the cosmos), they flip that sucker around. Admittedly, there remains a touch of the bad Lovecraft in the presentation of character Gary C., played by André Lamar (Urge), but the rest of the film is more an inversion of what one might expect from a Lovecraftian tale: small location with big implications led by compassion for rather than the renunciation of humanity. There’re big ideas inside Glorious which are deftly woven in and out of extreme situations at a steady clip so that the roughly 80-minute runtime flies right past from sincerity straight to insanity, all without losing an ounce of intrigue.
Though the concept is enough to bring people in, what’ll keep you invested is two-fold: the performances and the execution. This may seem obvious, but the two truly go hand-in-hand here; if even one piece is out of step with the other, it’ll all fall apart. Doing the most work is Kwanten as Wes as he’s in near every single scene of the film in some capacity. As our lead into the narrative proper, Kwanten has the difficult job of making the audience curious, getting them on his side, and keeping them there as things grow weirder and wilder. He’d been acting for over a decade before True Blood and continues to deliver strong performances in films like 2067 (2020). Here, Kwanten puts it all to work, the stuff that makes him dreamy, the stuff that makes him heroic, the stuff that makes him a proper asshole, and the stuff that makes him the biggest coward of us all in order to give Wes the varying shades that make the character believable in this unbelievable scenario. Wisely, the script doesn’t dumb down Wes, rather it leans into the absurd so that the normal becomes disquieting and the expected otherworldly. For his part, J.K. Simmons is the rare actor for whom a minor change in intonation is the difference between The Legend of Korra’s gentle and wise Tenzin and Whiplash’s sociopathic Fletcher. All of this comes to bear beautifully as the mystery of Ghat is unfurled piece by piece through the film, with a touch of absurdism thrown in for good measure. In anyone else’s vocal tenor, Ghat would be mystifying but not necessarily dangerous or terrifying, lacking an odd humility. Taken at face value, Ghat is everything one expects from a Lovecraftian tale, which makes the reality of the situation all the more satisfying as the script reveals itself through Simmons’s impeccable delivery.
Without getting into spoilers, as good as the performances are, it’s the total execution that makes the difference between memorable and forgettable. The lighting uses the expected purple tinges, the creature design evokes the style of Lovecraftian creatures, but it’s the use of them that makes the threats cinematic in presentation and the set claustrophobic despite its spaciousness. One particular favorite moment involves a literal rain-like drizzle of blood, a strange beauty amid the graphic horror, that later is shown literally moving upward as threats grow greater. These are little things which convey the incredible energy Wes finds himself surrounded by, the obstacles to his freedom growing ever more impregnable, even as his surroundings are entirely ordinary and seemingly sheltered. Lovecraft fans will enjoy little tidbits like the rest stop number, 37, being a reference to the year Lovecraft died (1937), while the physical manifestations of Ghat are appropriately sexual and dangerous. Perhaps my favorite aspects of the production/set design of Glorious is how they manipulate the expected (like commonplace bathroom graffiti) and turns it into something ominous, loading the audience with a heap of expectation that will repeatedly catch them unawares with the actual intention. All of it comes together to mystify, disrupt, and joyously satisfy. The best modern equivalent between the joy of Glorious and something else (performance, production/set, script, and style) is 2021’s PG: Psycho Goreman, a film which leans into its expectations to create a constantly astonishing cinematic ride. (Quick tip of the hat to Clint Carney for their original monster artwork and Bossk VFX’s visual effects that inspire true discomfort for the end of everything.)
Sometimes the right place at the right time can look like the wrong place at the wrong time. Stories of all kinds are built on this premise. Typically there’s some kind of terrible event that, if not for being there, would either go unresolved or unhalted. Captain Steve Hiller (Will Smith) and David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) in Independence Day just so happen to get together and, because of that, prevent alien domination of Earth. If not for John McClane (Bruce Willis) in Die Hard, not only would Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) get away with the money, but all the people at the holiday party would’ve died. If not for Gary King (Simon Pegg) tricking his friends into tackling the golden mile in The World’s End, humanity’s free will may have been gone for good. Each of these are terrible situations that could only be solved the way they are because the right person was there to handle it. It’s an upside that makes the tragedies within the stories feel worth the ride. The darkly comic Lovecraftian tale Glorious may be the latest film to tackle this narrative approach, reducing the fate of all life into the space of a disregarded rest stop bathroom. Weird, gross, beautifully transgressive, and altogether unexpected, Glorious is imbued with purpose that both raises complex questions while sticking the landing on all it seeks to achieve.
Screening during the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival.
Available for streaming on Shudder August 18th, 2022.
For more information, head to the official Glorious Fantasia International Film Festival film page.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.