Older Gods is the feature-length debut of writer-director David A. Roberts. As the title implies, the story deals with cosmic horror and ancient monsters from the deepest reaches. Surprisingly, though, the film is more of a drama about guilt and repression than the full-on horror offering one might expect due to the Lovecraftian name.
After the death of Billy (Ieuan Combs), Chris (Rory Wilson) leaves his pregnant significant other to assuage his mind of past trauma and not being there for his friend. Billy knew Chris would do something like this and left behind a series of video messages detailing events leading up to what Billy saw as the inevitable conclusion. As Chris uncovers more of what Billy and his research team were up to, he begins to feel so tiny and insignificant that he wonders why he should bother anymore. Do these feelings stem from the guilt and ennui Chirs feels? Or has he entered a realm in which whatever he does matters not, and that truth has left him scarred and changed forever?
Older Gods makes the most of its isolated British setting. The house Chris stays in feels claustrophobic and oppressive, paralleling the existential dread the protagonist faces. Director of Photography Shaun Bishop also makes the surrounding woodlands a foreboding place that feels haunted. Gerald Buckfield’s music fits the visuals like a glove, being both offputting and odd in a creepy way.
“…left behind a series of video messages…leading up to what Billy saw as the inevitable conclusion.”
Despite all that, the film never becomes scary. It’s unsettling at times, often absorbing, but it is never frightening. The adrenaline rush of survival that puts hairs on end is never present. And that is because, ultimately, the director has fashioned a drama. This will undoubtedly make a small group of horror hounds very upset because, to these people, if there’s not a huge body count or blood spraying all over, it’s not true horror.
That is unfortunate because Older Gods is a very effective drama. The connection between Chris and Billy is keenly felt in almost every scene. Wilson is often on screen by himself and sells every moment of regret, sadness, and madness. Combs is only seen via his videos, but the horror of what he saw is felt from the jump. The monologues these two have stir up tense emotions, which have a true payoff at the end.
Older Gods uses cosmic horror ideology to explore grief in a densely packed drama. The visuals and music work in tandem throughout the 84-minute runtime to create an uneasy atmosphere while the directing maintains the pace. But it is really the two leads, Wilson and Combs, who ensure that the heavy emotions being dealt with are authentic and moving. While not every genre fan will appreciate this slower burn of a film, those wishing for something deep and engaging will be satisfied.
For more information about Older Gods, visit the Wagyu Films site.
"…unsettling at times, often absorbing..."