[Full Disclosure: Joshua Hull — one of three credited screenwriters for Glorious — is a good acquaintance of mine, so that inevitably added an extra level of enjoyment for me while watching the movie.]
Glorious, despite a modest budget and scant runtime, certainly doesn’t lack ambition. The film — directed by Rebekah McKendry from a screenplay by Joshua Hull, David Ian McKendry and Todd Rigney — fuses together some of the most challenging horror subgenres from a filmmaking perspective. A single-location thriller, a mind-melting slice of cosmic horror and a gross-out comedy all in one, Glorious pulls off that tonal high-wire act with an impressive pair of lead performances from Ryan Kwanten and J.K. Simmons (providing one of the year’s best vocal performances) as well as some inventive editing from Joseph Shahood, who supplies the movie with its best visual gags and a swift pace that never allows the clever premise to wear thin.
Amid a sea of dour horror films painting broad allegories about trauma and grief, it’s a welcome change of pace to see an unpretentious genre exercise that’s happy to just take a unique premise and paint the walls red with it. And let me tell you, Glorious has nothing if not a unique premise. Wes (Kwanten) is an absolute mess from frame one, drinking himself numb at a rest stop after what appears to be a pretty tumultuous break-up (shown in brief, fragmented flashbacks) with Brenda (Sylvia Grace Crim).
After downing a fifth of whiskey outside the rest stop (as one does) and passing out, Wes wakes up the next morning and heads into the restroom to purge himself. It’s there in an adjacent stall that Wes meets and is trapped by Ghatanothoa (voiced by Simmons), a primordial god who may or may not be bringing an end to human life as we know it. They’re forced to communicate through a small glory hole joining the stalls together, and that hole may end up being the key (or keyhole) to Wes getting out of that rest-stop bathroom and maybe even saving the entire universe. And in true H.P. Lovecraft tradition, Ghatanothoa’s appearance is so fearsome and otherworldly that Wes’s mind will positively melt if he sees the god in its physical form.
So you know, just one of those classic Lovecraftian-glory-hole horror movies you’ve seen dozens of times before.
There are some obvious comparisons to be made while watching Glorious, particularly Stuart Gordon’s cult favorite From Beyond and 2019’s Color Out of Space (from which this borrows an ethereal pink-and-purple color palette), but what makes Rebekah McKendry’s film leave a distinct impression is its deft balancing of tones. The movie is legitimately laugh-out-loud funny at times, mostly thanks to Simmons’ wonderful vocal performance — which manages to sound alternately menacing, inquisitive and playful, often within a single line of dialogue. This isn’t just a wasted celebrity voice cameo; Simmons makes Ghat one of the year’s best horror villains.
Of course, a grindhouse throwback like this also lives and dies in how creatively gruesome it’s willing to get, and Glorious also excels in that regard. Like the aforementioned Lovecraft classic From Beyond, delivers on the wet, goopy practical effects that makes the movie feel like a labor of love and not just a chintzy throwaway. The CGI that is used is mostly effective given the production’s small budget, never going overboard in a way that distracts from the best moments of visual grotesquery.
While Wes isn’t necessarily the most fleshed-out protagonist you’ll see this year, the screenplay gives just enough to get one invested in his ultimate fate. By the time he’s asked to do some truly unspeakable things at the universe’s behest, you’re wincing right along with him. And sometimes, “just enough” character development is plenty. There’s nothing wrong necessarily with the recent A24-ification of horror movies; they’ve certainly produced some incredible ones in the past decade. But Glorious harkens to a time when a filmmaker like Peter Jackson could simply show audiences a dude slicing up a horde of zombies with a lawnmower and it would be the coolest thing you’ve ever seen. What Rebekah McKendry has done here is a satisfying reaffirmation of that spirit. It’s … what’s the word… marvelous? Sublime? Triumphant? Ah, never mind. I’m sure it’ll come to me later.
Glorious will screen at 9:15 p.m. Tuesday at the Indiana State Museum IMAX. A Q&A with co-writer Joshua Hull will follow, moderated by Midwest Film Journal writer Sam Watermeier. Tickets can be purchased here. Glorious also will be available on demand and on the streaming service Shudder beginning Thursday.