I don’t usually do movie reviews, because the web is already far too polluted with them. But this is an independant production, straight-to-video (unless you’re lucky enough to catch a festival viewing) and it deserves publicity.
« The Whisperer in Darkness » is a small novel by American author HP Lovecraft, originally published in 1931. It’s unarguably one of Lovecraft’s most seminal and important work, telling the tale of scholar Wilmarth exchanging letters with Akeley, a recluse old man in Vermont on the verge of being invaded with dark entities from who knows where.
There have been lots of Lovecraft adaptations in the past. Some are bad adaptations yet good B-movies (1963’s « The Haunted Palace », starring Vincent Price). Some are good adaptations yet bad B-movies (2009’s « The Dunwich Horror »). Some only refer obliquely to Lovecraft (1991’s « Cast a Deadly Spell », or more successfully, 1995’s « In the Mouth of Madness » from John Carpenter). Most set the action in the present day, for embarrassing results (1970’s « The Dunwich Horror », 1992’s « The Ressurrected », based on « The Case of Charles Dexter Ward »). While some adaptations are decent (2001’s « Dagon »), none I’ve seen ultimately satisfies, the one exception being the work of a small group of enthusiasts, the HPL Historial Society, who treated Lovecraft fans with a superb (and silent) « Call of Cthulhu » in 2005. Well, these guys are back with an even more grandiose project, « The Whisperer in Darkness ».
Like they did on « Call of Cthulhu », HPLHS presents the film the way it would have looked in theatre when the novella was written, that is, 1931. It’s a black&white movie, and a classy one indeed. The cinematography is superb. Shot on location in Vermont and Massachussets, it conveys the sense of brooding and doom that Lovecrat depicted in the novella : dark woods, creepy dwellers, and rain, lots of rain. The lighting, the composition, everything fits into place. Matt Foyer takes on a new challenge with this intensive, talking part, and succeeds in every way in his portraiture of skeptic-turned-prey Wilmarth. The rest of the cast doesn’t disappoint. Barry Lynch especially delivers a masterful performance as Akeley. The special effects are pretty good. I thought the creatures’s design was a bit too convoluted, but it’s faithful enough and the whole enterprise manages to be entertaining in 2012 standards while staying true to the spirit of the novella.
All right, I do have a major gripe though. While the script makes a good effort expanding on the original story (I don’t agree with the generalization of the filmmakers that Lovecraft’s endings are always lacking, but it’s true that the one devised for « Whisperer in Darkness » wouldn’t have worked in a movie), it suffers a big flaw. In the novella, Akeley recounts in great detail to Wilmarth, letter after letter, how the creatures are closing in and trying to communicate with him. Akeley gets scared to death and implore Wilmarth not to come. Then, out of nowhere, a reassuring letter arrives to Wilmarth, inviting him to Vermont. The whole thing is pretty much scrapped in the movie, which destabilizes the story : Akeley’s sudden change of sentiment, which is integral to the narrative, don’t have any impact now, because we haven’t seen how frightened he was beforehand. Also, we can’t really sympathise with Akeley now, because the only Akeley we see at length on screen is the weird, creepy one that meets Wilmarth in the second half of the story. This is a big problem to me, especially when you consider the time spent on the prologue (Wilmarth’s debate with Fort, etc) and how verbose some parts of the movie are. Treating this whole part in the movie would have allowed the filmmakes to add some great atmospheric action, with the lost Akeley house in the woods being assieged by unseen forces. Ha, well…
That said, it’s truly a tour de force, both as a movie and as Lovecraft’s adaptation. If you’re interested in Lovecraft, you absolutely have to own this. And if you like good cinema, well, you should give it a try as well, it’s old school fantastic at its best. I sure can’t wait for the next HPLHS project (*crossed fingers* « The Dunwich Horror »).
(Screens taken from the excellent blubeaver review)