Eldritch Adaptations is a series of reviews of movies based on or heavily inspired by the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft—better known as H. P. Lovecraft—an American horror writer who produced numerous stories during the 1920s and ’30s. His works have influenced the horror genre and inspired major writers and directors like Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and many more.
I’m hesitant to review Strange Aeons, not because it’s particularly mesmerizing or awful, but because I’m about to cover a lot of ground that I’ve already been over in previous Eldritch Adaptations articles. Namely, I refer to my reviews for The Thing on the Doorstep, Cool Air, and various short films. See, the biggest problem in Lovecraft adaptations isn’t anything insidious—although the misogynist undertones show up surprisingly often. The biggest problem is that they all lack ambition, a desire to capture not just the plot and creatures of Lovecraft’s films, but what made his stories effective: a psychological horror, one that taps into nigh-universal human fears. Even worse, though, none of them try to be something more, or at least different. As a result, Lovecraft adaptations aren’t as scary as Lovecraft’s stories, and they’re not adding anything to the conversation. Ironically, they’re like all of the Lovecraft knock-offs during ol’ H.P.’s time, ones that Lovecraft himself would have readily decried as missing the point.
Strange Aeons is a prime example of this. It’s a web series, and the first four episodes retell The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The only major plot change is that the main character has gills and seems drawn to the town of Innsmouth. In the original story, Robert does not realize until the end that he’s got some Innsmouth blood in him, and any draw he felt to the town was purely subconscious. When the gills reveal occurred early on, I was intrigued, because I wanted to know what they’d do with Robert as a character in the face of the change. His character has the potential for conflicted identity, the contradictory pull to that which we fear, or any number of interesting questions.
So what is this change used for? Nothing, really. Some nice prosthetics, maybe? There’s no driving theme or question to Strange Aeons, and the characters are as big of caricatures and cardboard cutouts as they are in Lovecraft’s story. The difference is that Lovecraft had the themes and atmosphere down pat, and we had more insight into the narrator’s mind due to the first person POV. Without those qualities, Strange Aeons has only the basic narrative, which is usually only a quality that’s interesting in Lovecraft’s stories to the extent that it services the atmosphere and theme. Strange Aeons needed to consider what made Lovecraft’s original story work, or how to say something new, and it did neither.
However, as much as I wasn’t engaged by Strange Aeons, I will recognize that within its context, it’s likely to engage a lot of people in the Lovecraft fandom. It’s a web series, and the budget is clearly low, but director James Latter does a lot to cover the fact. The lighting, cinematography, and acting are generally better than other amateur Lovecraft efforts. Still, I find myself dismayed because everything was almost right, but always just short of the mark. The scenes all are so close to being at the same level as other, more professional indie films like Coherence, but the acting is always just a tinge too poor, the framing not quite right, the costuming missing that one last bit of authenticity.
Ironically, I found this as distracting if not more than the production values in more amateur outings like The Thing on the Doorstep, because I was left in an awkward limbo of being impressed by the masked budget but not all the way convinced. This movie is in the uncanny valley of production values. Of course, there are particular moments that Latter should avoid entirely: action or fighting sequences, which have choreography resembling a movie my housemates and I made in college where one of us pretended to be a wolf and beat the shit out of the other two. Also, while the incomprehensible Zadok Allen works in Lovecraft’s story, it does not translate to film. He’s impossible to follow. Further, as much as I don’t like to criticize acting in well-meant amateur productions, the actor’s performance as Zadok is distractingly unbelievable, as is the costuming.
But for all of those criticisms, I am surprisingly impressed by Strange Aeons. It’s not great, really, but it’s promising. If the people behind it keep working, I will keep watching what they make, because I think they have the potential to add something to the tired conversation of Lovecraft adaptations. And really, there’s just one major disappointing part of Strange Aeons: it’s almost good in nearly every way. Fortunately, that’s also the most exciting part. Hopefully, Latter and the Strange Aeons crew improve their craft and encourage themselves to dig deeper into the text for their next outing. If they do, then this eternally grumpy Lovecraft nerd will be the first to cheer.