Movie Review: THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS (Fantasia Film Festival 2011)

A clever HP Lovecraft adaptation that drags and drags.

I fell in love with The Whisperer in Darkness right at the opening titles. In black and white and presented in the style of a 1930s horror film, this HP Lovecraft adaptation was doing something really cool and exciting right from the start. The idea of adapting the film in a style contemporaneous with the story’s publication just makes a lot of sense, and allows for a film that’s whole-heartedly into Lovecraft’s spooky, less explicit weirdness.

And then I fell out of love with The Whisperer in Darkness as the film plodded along for 45 minutes until it finally got to something - anything - interesting. The entire extended first act of the film is extraneous and could be almost completely cut from the film without losing a thing. There’s a cute bit where our hero debates Charles Fort (a real life awesome guy who was into the paranormal and unexplained, weird phenomena), but this doesn’t deserve all the running time it gets.

It’s too bad, because once The Whisperer in Darkness gets cooking (at about the 50 minute mark) it’s solidly okay. The movie adapts Lovecraft’s short story fairly faithfully up until this point, when it goes off into an adventure tangent; the 1930s setting allows the film to play with all sorts of period-appropriate mad scientist stuff, like jarred brains that speak through weird gadgets. Unfortunately the filmmakers opted to use CGI to create the Mi-Go creatures from Lovecraft’s story; bad puppets and men in suits would have been appropriate and easier to look past than bad CGI. And the Mi-Go CGI is pretty rotten.

What’s happened here is that a short film has been tortured into being a full length feature; even so, The Whisperer In Darkness should have taken cues from many 30s films and simply been 70 minutes long. The movie is filled with wonderful production design and the concept is a gas, but the execution makes for a turgid, listless film.