Glorious has its world première at Fantasia 2022, and is coming to Shudder later this year
Rebekah McKendry’s Glorious begins with its protagonist Wes (Ryan Kwanten) in a dark place. It is not just that he has had a bad breakup with his girlfriend Brenda (Sylvia Grace Crim), but also that we first see him, in conversation with the unseen Brenda, in a dark empty liquid non-space not unlike the processing lair to which Scarlett Johannson’s alien lured her male victims in Jonathan Grazer’s Under The Skin (2013). This nightmarish zone will turn out to be a literal nightmare, as Wes wakes with a start, back in reality, at the wheel of his moving, swerving car. Wes is at a crossroads in his life, barrelling dangerously forwards with no real sense of purpose or direction.
Wes will take a break at a roadside rest stop, devouring a significantly named Choco-Styx from the dispensing machine there, and making a drunken bonfire of the souvenirs and tokens that he has been carrying from his past as his cross to bear. These include women’s clothing, a teddy bear and polaroids – although he cannot quite bring himself to destroy one particular photo of his beloved Brenda. He even, in a crapulous accident that is also a kind of cosmic joke, sets fire to his own trousers. Waking up half-naked on the ground the next morning and racing to vomit in the public bathroom, he will find himself literally locked in conversation with an unseen figure (voiced by J.K. Simmons) in the next stall, separated only by a thin partition wall and a glory hole (hence the title) placed suggestively in the middle of a hybrid, hermaphroditic monster painted as grotesque graffiti. As this calm, curious presence convinces Wes that it is an elder god (very much of the Lovecraftian variety) fated to meet Wes and – maybe, if Wes willingly helps – to save all of life from complete obliteration, what ensues is the story of Jesus told in nihilistic negative and sent down the flusher.
Written by Joshua Hall, David Ian McKendry and Toddy Rigney, Glorious joins a small number of titles, like Christian James’ Stalled (2013), Roberto San Sebastián’s The Night of the Virgin (2016) and Sean King O’Grady’s We Need To Do Something (2021), where an apocalyptic scenario is confined to a bathroom, that space which reduces us all to our corporeal form and bodily function – even as these two characters, destined to come together, long for something more ethereal to redeem and elevate them above all life’s shit. Informed that the universe is asking for a favour, Wes will incredulously reply, “the same universe that has been taking a dump on me for some time.” Yet this odd couple of lost soul and toilet-bound god will eventually collaborate, in a joint effort to escape their mutual rut and at last to get out of the gutter.
Wes has a lot in common with his divine companion: both have daddy issues, both have come from toxic upbringings, and both have a capacity for patterns of (self-)annihilating behaviour. Indeed, it is entirely possible to entertain the idea, as Wes repeatedly looks at his distorted reflection in the convenience’s mirror, that his bathroom encounter is, like the dark zone which opened the film, no more than a troubling dream and a conversation with his own dark interiority. In other words, for all its spatial irrationality and g(l)oriously bloody excess, this toilet may be a purely – or impurely – psychological place, where Wes is being confronted with himself and with the primeval, destructive urges that are his birthright. For in this amenities apocalypse, it is Wes’ character that is being gradually subjected to Revelations, as we learn ever more about who this Promethean anti-hero is and what part of himself he is fleeing – and his at least partly internal struggle unfolds precisely in the location where what is inside is let out. Along this bumpy road, expect plenty of low laughs and bizarre business – but once it is all over, also be prepared to keep retracing the narrative as a purging parable of atonement, sacrifice and the monster within, putting the pee in expiation.
strap: Rebekah McKendry’s toilet-based psychological/co(s)mic horror confronts a lost soul with his own apocalyptic life in the gutter
© Anton Bitel