August is turning out to be quite the month for one-location horror films, isn’t it? Last week, we got “Fall,” where two girls climbed up a 2000-foot-high, abandoned radio tower to get over the death of one of their loved ones. But then the obvious happened (the ladder fell to the ground), and they got stuck there with no one around to rescue them. The movie’s scare factor stemmed from the height, and then open wounds and dead birds came into play, thereby increasing the overall grossness of the experience. Now, “Glorious” does happen closer to the ground. So, there’s that. However, if you are not okay with plenty of gore, transparent gelatinous material oozing out of things, tentacles, and surreal imagery, on top of the usual bodily fluids that are found in public toilets, this film is going to be a tough watch, folks!
Warning: Mature Content
“Glorious,” directed by Rebekah McKendry and written by Todd Rigney, Joshua Hull, and David Ian McKendry, follows a disheveled man named Wes (Ryan Kwanten) sleepily driving on the highway. We’ve no idea where he’s going or where he’s coming from. His car is stashed with memorabilia from his apparent relationship with a girl named Brenda (Sylvia Grace Crim). He stops by a public restroom to get some food and rest. A woman who’s probably taking a pit stop there advises him to clean up his car if he wants to sleep in it. Instead of doing that, he tries to re-establish contact with Brenda. When his phone runs out of juice, he decides to drink himself to death and burn his belongings. The following day, he goes to puke into the toilet and encounters a god named Ghat (J.K. Simmons), who wants something from him through the glory hole.
Essentially, (almost) everything about “Glorious” is perfect. So, let’s start with the performances, because the bizarreness of the film truly hinges on everything that Ryan Kwanten and J.K. Simmons are doing. Kwanten commits, man! He goes above and beyond to convince us that the person we are watching is someone who is truly pathetic, miserable, heartbroken, and utterly aimless. He opens up every fiber of his physical and psychological self and puts it on that disgusting floor for us to examine and wonder if he deserves to be stuck in a public toilet with a god. And it’s fascinating to watch. For those who are wondering if J.K. Simmons shows up physically, well, I’ve got to weather your expectations by saying that he does not. However, what this legend does with his voice will humble many actors in the business. Thankfully, Kwanten matches up to Simmons’s prowess, and the two make for one of the best horror movie duos.
Rebekah McKendry’s direction; David Matthews’s cinematography; Joseph Shahood’s editing; Peter Kelly’s art direction; Mary Czech’s makeup design; Alex Weiss’s sound design; Josh and Sierra Russell’s special makeup FX; Jason R. Miller’s VFX are beautiful. The way the film uses this singular public toilet and brings it to life in such insane and disgusting ways is deserving of all the applause in the world. Every stain, every flickering light, every sticker, every broken tile, every shattered mirror, and, weirdly enough, that one piece of tentacular artwork tells its own story. But it adds to the overall aesthetic of this gruesome journey that Wes and Ghat are on. The visual effects seamlessly alternate between hand-painted drawings and mind-blowing excerpts from the cosmos. David Matthews covers Wes’s devolution from every possible angle, while Joseph Shahood allows every frame to breathe so that you can simultaneously comprehend what’s unfolding and question it. And the level of confidence that McKendry shows from the director’s chair is astounding.
Let’s talk about the writing in “Glorious” now. Usually, I am very apprehensive about films that have more than one writer. It’s clearly a pet peeve because Rigney, Hull, and David’s script flows like a well-oiled machine. “But what is it about?” I hear you asking. Without spoiling anything, it’s about penance. The movie is ambiguous about whether it’s something that Wes seeks voluntarily or whether he is involuntarily put into this situation where the only way out is by admitting one’s wrongdoings. In addition to that, the film delves into father issues, atheism and theism, human behavior, and the worthiness of redemption. Yes, it’s a lot, and the answers that McKendry and her team come up with aren’t very straightforward. However, they are intriguing enough to keep you thinking long after the credits are done rolling. If you are wondering whether the movie is all doom and gloom, please know that it’s not. There’s some mean comedy in there that’ll have you chuckling.
The only qualm I have with “Glorious” is due to its “ambiguous” ending. To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with open-ended conclusions to movies and shows. It can keep you guessing about the cinematic journey you undertook. It can make you go back for seconds and watch the film more closely so that you can pick up some more clues and details about the plot. But there’s something about ambiguous endings that strongly suggests that maybe everything you’ve just seen is a figment of the protagonist’s imagination that just doesn’t sit right with me. That kind of an ending undercuts the movie’s own request to invest in the bizarreness of its story. I understand the underlying statement in “Glorious” is that the world’s worst horrors are in our minds, and when that’s mixed with generational trauma, we can turn into monsters. But doesn’t implying the existence of something that can cause such monsters the pain they deserve sound awesome? Maybe or maybe not. You decide.
In closing, I’d like to say that “Glorious” lives up to its name in a good way. Director Rebekah McKendry and her team understand the elasticity of the premise. Utilize it too poorly, and it can end up being forgettable. Stretch it too much, and it can end up being boring. But they hit the sweet spot and extract the best and most that they can get out of this tight plot. There’s not a wasted second in this entire 90-minute-long film. It is bloody, claustrophobia-inducing, and low-key tragic in nature. Ryan Kwanten delivers one of the best performances of the year, and J. K. Simmons shows us who’s the boss, yet again, when it comes to vocal modulations. And if these are not the makings of one of the best horror movies of the year, I don’t know what is. So, definitely give “Glorious” a watch and be wary of cosmic gods hiding in bathroom stalls.