Directed by Rebekah McKendry
Screenplay by David Ian McKendry, Joshua Hull, & Todd Rigney
Starring Ryan Kwanten, J.K. Simmons, & Sylvia Grace Crim.
Comedy / Horror
★★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)
The following essay contains significant spoilers!
You’ve been warned.
There’s a lot of so-called ‘Lovecraftian horror’ out there these days, and usually that only means there are some nondescript tentacles, or a cult in a small town, or a small town cult and a tentacled creature, along with someone going absolutely mad from witnessing unimaginable horrors. Rebekah McKendry’s Glorious makes a little fun of the Lovecraftian subgenre in horror while simultaneously using cosmic horror in a compelling way to explore men and their daddy issues.
The story places Wes (Ryan Kwanten)—a man going through a rough breakup—in a rest stop bathroom where he suddenly hears a strange voice (J.K. Simmons) in the next stall. Wes and whoever it is next to him start to converse, occasionally through the gloryhole, and he realises this person knows a lot about him, including all of his deepest, darkest secrets.
Often the use of cosmic horror goes big by portraying the whole world, and/or universe, as in danger from an existential threat. McKendry’s Glorious does go big, but places the individual first and foremost within the context of cosmic horror, focusing existentialism on a single man and his life’s choices. Wes’s very intimate, personal encounter with the cosmos is about the ways in which patriarchy poisons the world, and how bad men may not always face legal justice but, someplace, some time, the universe’s cosmic karma will catch up with them, and it will be glorious.Early on, Glorious works as an interesting use of cosmic horror to portray the apocalyptic emotional feelings that come along with the end of serious relationships. The very first lines of the film are a voice asking “Where are you?” and Wes replying: “I don‘t know.” Wes is figuratively lost amongst the cosmos, stranded in the midst of a vast universe after his relationship ended. When he starts talking to the person in the stall next to him, he remarks he’s “all by my lonesome at this rest stop here in, wherever the hell this rest stop is… it‘s a nice little statement on my life.” He’s become existentially unfixed, like a star that’s lost its position in the sky.
There’s a moment where the existential philosophy of Glorious appears visually, as Wes screams over his breakup and the shot zooms out further and further to a shot of Earth itself; we go from the particular to the universal, the story’s metaphysics right there on the plainly screen. At the very end, a similar shot occurs, reminding us of the story’s scope. Until later when more about Wes is revealed, Glorious‘s cosmic horror take on the death of a relationship is reminiscent of a film from 2018 called Starfish that portrays the end of a woman’s relationship as a literal apocalyptic event. Yet halfway through Glorious there are revelations about Wes, and this takes McKendry’s cosmic horror in a totally different direction.At a certain point in Glorious the audience understands that the end of Wes’s relationship didn’t come about via any traditional means, rather Wes did something terrible. After this point in the film, the story transforms into a very smart cosmic horror allegory of horrible men and the terrible acts they commit against others. Wes has made himself out to be the victim of his supposed breakup, when he, in fact, did something horrific to his significant other, Brenda. He’s no longer the heartbroken ex-boyfriend. He reveals his misogyny, spouting stuff such as Brenda “was like all the others,” or going the typical patriarchal route by expecting her to heal him, that she’d “fill the nothing” inside him. Soon, Ghat—the terrifying entity in the stall next to Wes—helps to illustrate Wes’s narcissism as a man. The entity requires a piece of Wes, and Wes, ever the toxic male, automatically assumes that this combined with the gloryhole means only one thing. Ghat berates Wes for believing a “human penis” will save the world. And after everything, at the end of the film Wes still actually believes he’s saved the world, calling himself “a hero.” He’s quickly corrected by Ghat: “No, heroes are remembered. You will be forgotten; it‘s what you deserve.”
The film’s cosmic horror lies entirely upon Wes, who’s confronting his own insignificant place amongst the universe. It’s not simply Wes realising humanity is a tiny blip within the cosmos, or that the Old Gods loathe us as is typical in Lovecraftian horror, it’s him understanding that he, as an awful man who’s done unspeakable things, means nothing—to anybody, to the universe—and he’s loathed by all, from women to the Old Gods.
Wes is a human parallel to Ghat. As Ghat puts it: “We are beings of pure destruction, Wes. You and I don‘t belong in this beautiful world.” They’re directly paralleled as angry entities with daddy issues: Wes had a psychologically abusive father, Ghat has a father who expects great and terrible things from them. Glorious uses its cosmic horror to explore the brutal irony of men like Wes who are so insistent on not becoming like their fathers but wind up exactly like them, or, in Wes’s case certainly, far worse. Keeping in mind these men with daddy issues, there’s an interesting connection to Christianity in the film, perhaps a commentary on God and Jesus—the original toxic father-son relationship—when Ghat says “It is finished” as Wes is near death; these are famous words from the Bible (John 19:30), supposedly what Jesus said before dying on the cross.
Lovecraftian horror doesn’t always actually get into anything truly existential, and a lot of films that go for cosmic horror don’t ever dig deep enough into the cosmic aspect, mostly happy to convey a vague mythology and have creepy, crawly things in the dark or reaching into reality from outer space. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either.
For those who want cosmic/Lovecraftian horror—or whatever label we’re putting on it this year—that has actual philosophical weight, then Glorious is a horror film to scratch that itch. There are questions about our existence on Earth and our place in the cosmos, a nice little Jean-Paul Sartre reference, and downright hilarious comedy centred on the gloryhole separating Wes and Ghat; a film that really has everything!
Glorious is compelling to me because amidst a story about terrible men and the toxic legacies of daddy issues which haunt them, the film somewhat pushes back against the idea of Lovecraftian horror, or Lovecraft’s legacy in general. While Ghat is an actual part of the Cthulhu mythos—the scene where Wes tries to pronounce Ghat’s full name, Ghatanothoa, is brilliant—first appearing in Lovecraft and Hazel Heald’s story “Out of the Aeons,” their struggle against their father’s apocalyptic expectations is almost a struggle against the toxicity of Lovecraft (who wrote a lot of horribly racist things). Glorious is an all-around attempt to grapple with the toxic legacies patriarchy has left behind, though its cosmic horror ends with hope that in the end bad men get what’s coming to them, through some existential twist of fate or otherwise.