Rebekah McKendry’s Glorious has a lot going for it: a great premise, stellar performances from Ryan Kwanten and J.K. Simmons, stunning visuals, and delicious gore. But there’s something lacking in this darkly comedic horror that, after its initial solicitation of “literally what the fuck” from viewers, will not stop nagging, something that keeps it from packing the guttural punch I so wished it would land.
The film begins with an apparently heart-broken Wes (Kwanten) pulling over at a rest stop in a car apparently full to the brim with his life’s belongings. He’s apparently been dumped by his girlfriend and at the rest stop he keeps calling her, and when he reaches only her voicemail, he leaves her cringey messages. He spends the night at the rest stop, getting drunk out of his mind, burning everything that reminds him of his ex. The next morning he wakes up and rushes to the rest stop’s washroom, needing to throw up. In the bathroom, a being a stall over (Simmons) strikes up a conversation with Wes. It soon emerges that the being is an alien who needs Wes’s help in saving the planet. The rest of the movie is basically a dialogue between Wes and the being as the former convinces the latter to help it save the world, a dialogue that is punctuated by vague revelations about Wes’s past and also hints at what transpired to cause the demise of his relationship, why he ended up at the rest stop to begin with.
It truly is a great premise with great comedic bits — Simmons is present only through his voice and fills the film with his inimitable timing and charm. Kwanten as Wes is great at simultaneously playing a man teetering on the edge of madness and one who’s been submerged within it for years. The concept, too, of a Waiting for Godot-type of dialogue-based narrative, is deeply interesting. But for all its diegetic leanings — the being explains who he is, Wes explains who he is — there is something that remains unsaid, and this something is difficult to describe without spoiling the twist at the end, but the unsaid is enough to make it so that the film doesn’t earn its twist.
What I am trying to say is that there is too much about Wes that is merely vaguely gestured at, that is not reckoned with as it perhaps ought to be by a character who is meeting the end of times. The film hints at a kind of extreme badness within Wes, but it isn’t convincing because the script and Kwanten do such a very good job of creating a naive and bumbling and charming character. Perhaps this charm is part and parcel of the character’s badness, endemic to how he is able to dupe others, but this reading seems too charitable here, a bit of a stretch. When it comes to Wes, the film is too subtle to a fault, especially in comparison to how the narrative takes pains to explain the mythology of the monster. When such an extreme badness is hinted at in the protagonist, it ought to be woven into the character from the start, it shouldn’t lie within a twist foisted upon the viewer within the final moments of the film. It ought to not leave it ambiguous whether this guy is a bad guy, if anything it would make the film more textured if it were not so subtle about his badness.
Glorious could certainly have been truly glorious, and I would say that certain of its aspects — such as the Lovecraftian alien mythology, the VFX, and even its glittering purple and blue visually-pleasing astral hues — are amazing. But it leaves a sour taste in your mouth, not in a good way. For a film so reliant upon dialogue for exposition, one wishes it would have done just a bit more to crystallize its protagonist, for if it had, then the character would have been gloriously complex and compelling.