People go to many places to find God. They go to church, they go out into nature, they can sit in self reflection. It seems there’s no shortage of places where people can find God, but finding him in the end stall in a rest stop bathroom might seem like a pretty strange place to come across him.
Glorious tells the story of Wes (Ryan Kwanten), as he drives across the US. Wes is clearly upset, and seems to be barely keeping himself together, and as such pulls into a remote rest stop to get a break. However, Wes seems to get lost in his heartbreak and spends the night burning several possessions and getting drunk. Waking up the next morning with an extreme hangover, and missing his pants, he rushes into the nearby bathroom in order to throw up.
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Whilst in the beaten up stall, complete with a glory hole decorated in artwork that can only be described as a cross between a woman and a Cthulian nightmare, Wes hears a voice coming from the stall beside him. The voice starts to strike up a conversation with him, and despite Wes not wanting to talk to some random stranger in a rest stop bathroom he finds himself chatting away to the man – or at least what he at first believes to be a man. The voice identifies itself as Ghatanothoa, an ancient god who needs Wes for something; and he’s not going to let Wes go until he gets what he needs.
The concept of Glorious is pretty ridiculous. It’s a single character, trapped alone in a bathroom with a disembodied voice to keep him company. It shouldn’t work, it should fall apart somewhere, but it never does, ending up with a film that’s one of the most delightfully creative movies I’ve seen in years.
The biggest strength of the film is the acting, and the chemistry between the two leads. Ryan Kwanten is a great lead actor, and is the man upon whose shoulders much of the success or failure rests. Other than a handful of people who make brief appearances in flashbacks, he’s the only real character that we ever get to see, and he’s present in every single scene. Even when he’s not the focus, he’s there, he’s reacting, and he’s still keeping the story alive. I’ve seen Kwanten in several film and television projects in the past, and whilst his acting has been fine it’s never really been something that I’ve taken note of before. Here, however, he manages to keep you hooked to the screen throughout.
Kwanten plays Wes with a sense of mystery to him. We don’t know what’s happened to him to drive him to come out to the middle of nowhere to burn this mysterious red box and its contents, and whilst there are subtle clues that hint at a man with a broken heart there’s something more too. There are times where Wes comes across as slightly sinister, and you’re not sure if you’re supposed to think that he might be something of a bad guy beneath everything. There are small moments where the expression on Kwanten’s face says a lot more than the words coming out of his mouth ever do, and you begin to realise that he’s a lot more complex than first appears.
But, Kwanten isn’t in this alone, as he shares most of his scenes with the voice of Ghatanothoa, J.K. Simmons. Simmons feels perfectly cast in this role, and manages to bring a level of humanity to a being that’s not only inhuman, but utterly and completely alien. Simmons has done some great voice acting work in the past, but this might be one of his best roles I’ve seen (heard?) him in. When they first meet Wes believes he’s just a guy who’s perhaps a bit unused to personal boundaries, and talks to strangers in bathrooms, and he very much does come across as an affable, kindly guy just trying to start a conversation. Even when he reveals his true nature he comes across as honest, and at times quite pleasant. It would have been easy to have Simmons turn from charming to scary, to have his booming voice cow Wes beneath him, but that never really happens, and Ghatanothoa instead talks to him like a person,
It’s these kinds of choices that make Glorious stand out from other Cosmic Horror stories. The film doesn’t take the expected course, and deliberately chooses to take the creative option. Some of this is down to the great writing, which manages to deftly weave together moments of absolute horror with genuine comedy. Where the film really excels though is the visuals. Director Rebekah McKendry makes some interesting choices in the execution of the film, and thanks to some clever camera trickery, fun shifting perspectives and angles, there are some moments that will leave you pleasantly delighted as something unexpected happens.
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The film also leans into the Cosmic Horror staples, though, and there are plenty of otherworldly colours, odd tentacles, showers of slow motion blood, and twisting, shifting biological masses that can’t be explained. The film does its best to keep you in the loop, however, and there’s a wonderful scene where Ghatanothoa explains what it is, where it comes from, and what it wants that comes complete with moving bathroom wall graffiti as its history is shown to us, rather than simply told. There’s a sense that the same script, and the same cast under a different director would have come out very differently, as the sense of style that McKendry has brought to the movie is a big part of why it all just works.
Glorious is not your average horror film. It has minimal locations, almost no cast, and relies quite heavily on the chemistry of two characters who never even get to see each other. It has a premise that’s incredibly ridiculous, one that feels like it should be laughed at rather than taken seriously. But thanks to an amazing cast, a tight script, and some stunning visuals Glorious has become a film that I not only want to watch again, but to recommend to others, as it’s a high point of creativity amongst other films that are happy to play it safe.
Glorious premieres on Shudder on 18th August.