In “Glorious,” J.K. Simmons plays the voice of an ominous Lovecraftian god lurking behind the glory hole of a random roadside restroom. That’s practically all the pitch Shudder audiences need to sample this not-nearly-as-sick-as-it-sounds oddity from genre-movie superbrain Rebekah McKendry, whose expertise in all things horror outstrips her knowledge of the basics of men’s bathrooms — including what they look like and how dudes behave when they become aware that there is someone/thing heavy-breathing in the neighboring stall. Then again, getting creative with such logistics hasn’t impacted “Porky’s” place in film culture, so why should it be a deal breaker here?
It’s just that, even at 80 minutes, “Glorious” feels four times too long for what it is. Though the movie’s premise (hatched by Todd Rigney, then fleshed out by Joshua Hull and Fangoria veteran David Ian McKendry) may seem juvenile, director Rebekah McKendry navigates by an inexplicable parallel-dimension sense of “good taste”: She makes it a point to avoid the transgressive shocks one might expect from the concept — like what would happen if a “customer” should put his eye (or any other orifice) up to the hole — instead treating this outré encounter as some kind of cosmic judgment day.
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Simmons’, er, oral contributions to the film notwithstanding, “Glorious” is very nearly a one-man show for co-star Ryan Kwanten, who plays Wes, a weary traveler driving who-knows-where with all his possessions crammed into the back of his SUV. Newly single and not happy about it, Wes pulls in to a highway rest area and proceeds to wallow in self-pity, smashing his phone (convenient) and burning a shoebox full of souvenirs (including photos of ex-girlfriend Brenda, portrayed in flashback by Sylvia Grace Crim) before passing out drunk in the parking lot.
The next morning, Wes drags himself pantless to the loo. Once the door shuts behind him, he’s trapped in what appears to be a “Saw” movie, or else the public toilets of a 90-year-old Soviet subway station. It’s clearly a soundstage, despite the meticulously curated state of despair/disrepair, which can be excused, given that “Glorious” was produced during the pandemic and never makes any claims to realism. Harder to swallow is the elaborate mural decorating the stall wall — a curious design choice, since this crude graffiti becomes a greater point of focus than the glory hole itself (the movie barely engages with the queer discomfort of its premise).
Anyway, once the supernatural companion sharing this bathroom starts chatting, Wes doesn’t seem bothered by the stranger’s presence so much as he is by his own predicament. Flashing back to Brenda occasionally, Wes wastes a lot of time trying to escape the bathroom when what we really want him to do is start taking this disembodied voice, who calls himself “Ghatanothoa,” seriously. Only then will the plot start to go anywhere. There’s a reason that the universe has brought these two souls together, but “Glorious” unwisely withholds the explanation as its twist, as opposed to establishing what they have in common from the outset and making the monster’s demands more dramatically interesting.
Ghatanothoa really is a malicious entity in classic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s extended mythos — a “being of pure destruction,” in Simmons’ words — although Wes hardly seems worthy of such a visit. Some people just love Lovecraft, with the trippy colors (the same blue and fuchsia tones seen in films such as “From Beyond” and “Color out of Space”), deep-sea imagery (represented here via tentacles and ominous aquatic sound design) and overall fear of the unknown. Still, this is just about the most absurd place to cram those elements. It ultimately feels like a stunt, especially since the movie never answers its core creative question: Why a glory hole? Of all the terrible things one could imagine hiding behind an illicit pleasure portal, Ghatanothoa, first son of Cthulhu, is weirdly not the worst.
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