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With: Matt Foyer, Barry Lynch, Daniel Kaemon, Matt Lagan, Joe Sofranko, Stephen Blackehart, David Pavao, Autumn Wendel
Written by: Sean Branney, Andrew Leman, based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft
Directed by: Sean Branney
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 104
Date: 03/12/2011
IMDB

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Cult Drastic

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's hard to measure the literary influence of H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). He was clearly an imaginative and impressive writer, with a legion of followers, yet he wrote in the "lower" genres of horror and sci-fi and has yet to command the kind of mainstream respect that, say, James Joyce does.

Like Joyce, Lovecraft's works have often been deemed "unflimable." American director Stuart Gordon has had the most success, starting with the cult classic Re-Animator (1985) and including From Beyond (1986), Castle Freak (1995), Dagon (2001), and the Dreams in the Witch-House TV episode of "Masters of Horror." Gordon's take has been to adapt Lovecraft's style to his own, resulting in dark comedies.

Now the filmmakers Andrew Leman and Sean Branney have attempted a new series of Lovecraft movies. Their first effort, The Call of Cthulhu (2005), was a 47-minute silent film (which I haven't yet seen). Their new one, The Whisperer in Darkness, is a feature-length talkie, designed in the tradition of 1930s films, specifically those of James Whale.

Unfortunately, outside the opening credits and black-and-white cinematography, Leman and Branney don't even come close to getting the look and feel of a Whale film. Their pacing is unbearably slow, and scenes languish for long minutes in dialogue and suspense-free padding. Whale would never have been so wasteful.

The plot involves Albert Wilmarth (Matt Foyer), a professor who studies legends and folklore. A farmer in Vermont, Henry Akeley (Barry Lynch), contacts him about mysterious happenings on his property, including weird artifacts and strange footprints. Eventually, after seeing enough evidence, Wilmarth agrees to visit the Akeley property, but when he gets there, he finds insidious things going on. The once-paranoid Akeley is now dismissive of anything strange going on, and Wilmarth learns about a secret experiment to transplant people's brains to jars.

I won't say anymore, but this is the kind of movie where it takes about half the movie just to get Wilmarth to the farm, and we watch him trudging through rain-soaked fields for about a reel before anything happens. In one scene, he tries to comfort a young girl with a long speech; this ends with an offer of singing her a song, to which she replies, "no." Not that I was eager to hear Wilmarth sing, but why spend all that time on a speech with no payoff? Most scenes like this go on with too much explanation and little point.

Lovecraft was all about creating dread, or, in short, atmosphere. Filmmakers Leman, who co-wrote, and Branney, who co-wrote and directed, attempt to come close to this with their old-movie look, but it doesn't create an emotional response so much as an intellectual one. It's an admirable effort, but one that sadly doesn't work.

My pals at Microcinema have distributed the nice-looking Blu-ray with a generous amount of extras, including a commentary track, extensive "making of" featurettes, deleted and extended scenes, and trailers.
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