Review: Now Streaming on Shudder, Glorious Succeeds as an Emotionally Dark Morality Play
Some days, a horror film concept just sells itself on paper. In Glorious, the new offering from Rebekah McKendry (All the Creatures Were Stirring), Ryan Kwanten plays a disturbed young man named Wes, who is in distress as he drives a lonely highway with just a box of photos and a face covered in tears and sweat. He begins to fall asleep at the wheel, and rather than crash, he pulls into a virtually empty rest stop. We get a sense that he’s pining for a woman he’s just lost, but the details are unclear and seemingly unimportant (until they are), especially after he wanders into the men’s room and finds himself locked inside with a mysterious figure (voiced by none other than J.K. Simmons) speaking to him from an adjacent stall that just happens to share a glory hole with his. And with this auspicious beginning, the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
Without giving away too many details, the stakes of Glorious couldn’t be higher, and the thing on the other side of the hole (which Wes calls Ghat and never sees other than in glimpses of unrecognizable parts) makes it clear that unless Wes shares a certain part of his “essence,” the world as we know it will end at the hands (or tentacles) of this monster. And while Wes attempts to escape and even almost gets out with the help of the local maintenance guy (André Lamar), it becomes clear that he has been chosen because the kind of misery and pain he is currently enduring is something Ghat can latch onto and use.
With clear and icky Lovecraftian flavor, the movie alternates between epic, gruesome, funny and even heartfelt tones as we begin to get a sense of where Wes’s pain comes from. Director McKendry succeeds by showing us less and letting our imaginations run wild, but every so often, she lets a truly horrifying image flash before our eyes, topping off our nightmare fuel. Despite playing a monster, most of the time Simmons is using a calm, soothing, empathetic tone with Wes, until the troubled man disobeys him, and then he launches into soul-shaking demonic resonance.
The entire affair sounds more outrageous than it plays out, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deliver. Glorious is the perfect pandemic movie, with only a couple of characters—including many glimpses of former girlfriend Brenda (Sylvia Grace Crim) in flashbacks—and basically one location. Things get emotionally dark and then they get worse, but the movie never really gets scary, and I don’t think it’s meant to. It’s a curiosity, a morality play, and an acting showcase. More importantly, I never had any idea what was coming next, which is rare in the horror-film realm. And when certain aspects of Kwanten’s story are revealed, I was genuinely stunned. We spend a great deal of the film wondering why Wes was picked for this endeavor, and the film certainly delivers what I thought was a satisfying answer (although it may not be the one you want). Glorious isn’t a great horror movie, but it’s a truly enjoyable and satisfying way to kill about 75 minutes of your life, as you watch the fate of all life hang in the balance.
The film is now streaming on Shudder.
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Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.