David Robertson

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011, Sean Branney)

Given the filmmakers are members of an organization dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft stuff, I’m going to assume the plot problems with The Whisperer in Darkness are from the source material. As in, the stupid stuff is in the original and they just left it in. Maybe they thought it was good, maybe they thought it was bad, regardless, Whisperer is pretty dumb.

Worse, it’s a mess as a film. It’s in black and white, but it’s shot on DV and DV is unforgiving. Why have CG monsters and electrical effects if you’ve got paper macho sets? It creates a disjointed visual experience and it is often jarring.

Speaking of jarring, it’s also disconcerting when director Branney doesn’t use a low angle shot or pan. He loves low angle shots and he loves panning. Whisperer‘s direction is tiresome.

Maybe if the film had been made as a comedy, it might’ve worked. But it’s serious and, sadly, it’s not even good at being serious. The silly visualization of disembodied heads, apparently in an attempt to fit in a forties style (along with the black and white), don’t match with the surprisingly good CG aliens.

Lead Matt Foyer is quite good. He wouldn’t have been able to sell it as a gag. Matt Lagan is also good. Actually, none of the performances are bad.

Also, Vermont hicks aren’t a scary villain group. It’s not Deliverance country… it’s Ben & Jerry’s country.

While interesting in its failures, Whisperer is a complete waste of time.



Directed by Sean Branney; screenplay by Andrew Leman and Branney, based on the story by H.P. Lovecraft; director of photography, David Robertson; edited and produced by Robertson; music by Troy Sterling Nies; production designer, Leman.

Starring Matt Foyer (Albert Wilmarth), Matt Lagan (Nathaniel Ward), Daniel Kaemon (P.F. Noyes), Stephen Blackehart (Charlie Tower), Autumn Wendel (Hannah Masterson), Caspar Marsh (Will Masterson), Barry Lynch (Henry Akeley), Joe Sofranko (George Akeley) and Andrew Leman (Charles Fort).

The Call of Cthulhu (2005, Andrew Leman)

Here’s an interesting one. A modern silent drama. When I saw Gance’s Napoleon at Northwestern, someone besides a film professor introduced it. I can’t remember what he did, but he was just a big fan of silent films. In his brief introduction, he talked about how silent films and talkies vary not just by the audio, but by the storytelling methods. The Call of Cthulhu is a silent drama. The goal of the filmmakers (the H.P. Lovecraft historical society) was to adapt the 1920s story in that time period’s film medium. From the language of the title cards to the expressions and make-up of the actors, they succeed.

The silent drama is more of a visual storytelling medium than the talkie. Through the 1930s, when people were getting used to talkies, you still had some of these visuals–communicating information to the audience through a means outside the characters’ experience. A reasonable modern example is the maps (the moving dots) in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s not a precise example, but it’s a similar method. While these visuals do not currently “work” in film, in The Call of Cthulhu, they’re brilliant. The original story–I’ve never read any Lovecraft and don’t necessarily plan to do so, but he’s got a lot of great fans (John Carpenter, Guillermo del Toro)–is multi-layered, four or five story timelines going on at once, and the visual storytelling allows easy understanding for the audience.

The film’s official website attests there’s no CG, but some of the direction is obviously influenced by post-1920s work. It’s not disconcerting at all and I only noticed the shots because I watched the film with such mad love. With many of the “location” sequences, there’s raw, brilliant filmmaking innovation. CG has all but done destroyed that sort of innovation (to the point it’s surprising to find out something is not CG), and The Call of Cthulhu certainly shows film needs that innovation–needs that struggle–to achieve. This particular film achieves a whole lot through such innovation.

Though the film is out on DVD and has been reviewed at many mainstream DVD websites, Netflix isn’t carrying it, so it’s $20 from the official website. (You can also get it at Amazon). It’s well-worth the price.



Directed by Andrew Leman; adaptation and screenplay by Sean Brannery, based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft; director of photography, David Robertson; edited by Robertson; music by Chad Fifer, Ben Holbrook, Troy Sterling Nies, Nicholas Pavkovic; produced by Brannery and Leman; released by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

Starring Chad Fifer (Henry Wilcox), Ralph Lucas (Professor Angell), Matt Foyer (The Man) and John Bolen (The Listener).

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