Toxic Masculinity and Lovecraftian Monsters
Director Rebekah McKendry gets goofy and gory with Glorious
After a bad breakup with his girlfriend Brenda (Sylvia Grace Crim), imbecilic loner Wes (Ryan Kwanten) wakes up after a drunken bender locked inside a bathroom at an isolated roadside rest stop. After failing to break down the door, a voice (J.K. Simmons) from a locked stall attempts to start a pleasant conversation with him. Calling himself Ghat, he appears to know far more about Wes than he should, forcing the increasingly bewildered young man to question his own sanity.
This is the opening salvo in director and co-writer Rebekah McKendry’s monstrously entertaining Glorious, a gleefully gory science fiction horror-comedy hybrid that feels like an especially ingenious episode of The Twilight Zone crossed with EC Comics’ Tales from the Crypt. It’s a Lovecraftian nightmare scenario where the line between good and evil barely exists, and toxic men with serious daddy issues must come to a mutual understanding or else humanity may cease to exist.
I sat down over Zoom with McKendry to talk about her splendid new film. Here are the edited transcripts of what she had to say:
Sara Michelle Fetters: Now that we’re two weeks past the film debuting on Shudder, the response appears to have been exceedingly positive. People really seem to like it. What’s that been like for you, seeing those responses?
Rebekah McKendry: That has been awesome. We knew when we were making it, we kept saying, “This film’s not going to be for everybody.” Even in my first round of interviews, I’m very much like, this film’s not going to be for everyone. I was anticipating a lot of people who were like, “What the hell is this? This is garbage.” [laughs]
We have had a few of those responses, but not for the most part, especially from horror fans, which are who we kept saying we made the film for. It’s been incredibly well received, which has been absolutely amazing.
But some of my favorite comments are the “What the F was this?” ones… I saw one that I even reposted on Twitter. It was like, “Anyone who likes this clearly has something wrong with them.” I was like, “You sound like my family.” That’s wonderful. [laughs]
SMF: Glorious was born out of the pandemic isolation that you and your collaborators were feeling. It feels almost like the perfect COVID movie, even though it’s not about COVID, which makes me happy, because I do think movies should talk and be about what is happening in the current world, but there are creative ways to do just that where you don’t have to be explicit about it. Your film, both subtly and unsubtly, manages to do this. Was that by design, or was this something you found you’d lucked into as you were there giving the story its life?
RM: That was definitely kind of what drew me to the project to begin with. When the original draft of the script came to me, we were deep in the pandemic. It was the bleak parts of the pandemic where everybody was just miserable. My husband kept talking about getting his realty license. We were just miserable. [laughs]
We were still barely scraping by, our kids were home, and it was just a bad time. But I had received the script and immediately, I was like, there is something so charming here. I knew you could dig further into this story about this guy having a discussion with God in a confined space — or this thing that claims to be God. I was like, there’s a movie here that I need to make.
When we optioned the script and took it forward, the very first thing that we said we needed to do was to build in our own existential crisis. It was exactly what everybody was going through, this “what the fuck am I even doing with my life?” moment that we were all experiencing.
But we never said, “Let’s make it about COVID.” Instead we said to ourselves, “Let’s make the story about an existential crisis.” That was part of our design… the idea Wes was being forced to look back on his life and faced with the biggest question there is. How do you move forward now that you’ve seen everything and you’ve been forced to look at all that you’ve done? How do you move forward from that? Can you?
Then we got to even heavier, which is our ending, which I won’t give away. But we had different versions: some where Wes lives, and some where he dies. It all came down to these big discussions about if you make a huge sacrifice and you’re now aware of all of your sins, but you’ve done something to try to right them, can you still be punished for those sins? Should you still pay for them?
SMF: Not to jump forward, but I do have to say, one of my favorite moments in the film is the introduction of Gary, and that’s because of Wes’s reaction to Gary. It’s a similar reaction that all of us have been having as we’ve sort of tried to come out of this pandemic, how we’ve sort of forgotten how to communicate with people. Wes is so excited to see a person that he doesn’t actually know how to verbalize what is going on and why he’s trapped in the bathroom in the first place.
RM: So, the exact direction that I gave Ryan on set was I wanted him to act like a dog whose owner had just gotten home from work. You can see that, where it’s just this moment of sheer joy. Just this moment of “I don’t even know what to do.”
From there, I liked that Wes knows he’s not wearing pants, that he’s an absolute mess, and he probably smells like vomit. But at that point he’s still going to turn the formal on with Gary. Everything’s like, “Sir, yes, sir.” Ryan’s delivery, it’s just beautiful through that entire scene.
SMF: When you knew you were going to make the film, what were the challenges that you and your team had to tackle? How much was [Ryan] involved as a partner in tackling those challenges?
RM: We always knew the film was very small. We knew that the god is never actually there, so it would be a chamber piece. Once we were able to get it funded and get moving forward with the production, that was always the intro to all of our meetings, that we knew what we were and what our focus was going to be on.
The problem was always figuring out how we overcome the one setting. How do we overcome this as easily and efficiently as possible without going outside that space? So the very first thing was always limiting the time. I love that a lot of people have been like, “79 minutes, that’s awesome!” I feel the same way. I always say you have exactly one bladder’s length to show me your film. [laughs]
But we also knew that if you’re going to spend 80 minutes in one bathroom that there constantly has to be something happening. The story has to be moving forward. We tried to make sure that if there were any moments where it got super chatty, where it is just Wes and Ghat, we had to have those, of course, because that’s how we have our emotional revelations. But those scenes always had to be working simultaneously or right before some other big thing that was about to happen. I wanted to keep the audience guessing.
Additionally, every version of this film, even going back to the original short story, has been gory as hell. It’s part of the reason I love it. I love gory, sick movies. When we were designing the character of Ghat, instead of having him be this fully fleshed-out monster in the stall, we wanted it to be that he’s going through these transformations. I wanted to keep checking back in with him and see each level of what he was going through.
SMF: Which totally fits in with the Lovecraftian influences on the film.
RM: Yes! We loved the idea that he’s slowly becoming corporeal. That he exists on this different plane and he’s slowly changing into a being of our world.
SMF: Going back to Ryan. I feel like, post-True Blood, for whatever reason, filmmakers don’t know how to use him. He’s so talented, and he never gets these opportunities to show all he’s capable of. In a project like this, you force him to show what he can do when challenged. He’s really the only person that we see for 95% of the film.
RM: I’ve been watching Ryan for years. When we started having conversations about how to cast Wes — by that time J.K. Simmons was already attached — we had a production date that we were aiming for and needed to find someone. We started coming up with traits and throwing out names, and the biggest thing was that they had to be really likable, they had to be fun to watch on screen for an entire movie, and at the same time they had to have a sinister bent to their personality. They had to be able to go really, really dark.
Somebody was like, what about Ryan Kwanten? At the time I had just seen Ryan in Joe Lynch’s episode of Creepshow and I was immediately excited. [I’m texting] Barbara Crampton, who was in the episode with him and is one of our executive producers, saying, “What about Ryan?” She was like, “I’m going to text him right now, and I’ll get you guys on a Zoom tomorrow.”
The next day we were Zooming, and it was clear from the start that Ryan got the script. He understood the humor. He understood that it was supposed to be this sharp mix of humor that then goes dark, then goes gory, and the goes back and forth and back and forth over and over again. It’s all kind of meshed in together.
But he understood that all of the humor, much of which is delivered by his character’s dialogue, comes from a really dark place. It is his defense mechanism whenever he gets freaked out or feels like somebody’s getting too close. Wes turns on this kind of sarcastic snark. Ryan was really excited to work with that.
He literally threw himself into things. [laughs] Physically throwing himself into the role. On our first day of shooting, Ryan was actually throwing himself into the set walls. It was this scene where he plows into the bathroom door to try and knock it down. The whole day it was just him beating up against the walls. He was doing everything with such force and such emotion, that evening the crew had to go back through and reinforce and re-stud all of the set walls [or else] he was going to knock them down within a week.
But Ryan’s tremendous. He was amazing to work with.
SMF: How did the relationship between him and J.K. Simmons work?
RM: Their conversations are all very planned. We had a lot of rehearsals. The thing we had during the pandemic was time. Everybody was just at home. So we started Zoom rehearsals, and this was three months before we ever even got to set. We had these rehearsals between Ryan, J.K., and myself, and we would have these big, heavy philosophical conversations about all of the mythology and stuff in the script. Then we would just run the lines over and over and over.
Joining us in these rehearsals was the producer, Morgan Peter Brown, who then read J.K.’s lines on the set. By the time we were shooting, we had listened to J.K. do the script so many times that Ryan knew his pace, knew how he was going to say every line, and where he was going to be snarky. Additionally Morgan had memorized J.K.’s normal delivery, and would mimic his recording as best he could. We had recordings of J.K., and Morgan would literally copy them whenever he could. It was like we had pseudo J.K. on set.
By the time we got to record J.K.’s dialogue, the world had opened up a little. We got to do that in person here in LA. We already had Ryan’s dialogue, so for J.K. it became something of a natural conversation. But it was a whole lot of rehearsal to make it that natural. They all worked really, really hard.
SMF: How perfect as the voice of a god? A maybe malevolent god who doesn’t want to be a malevolent god? What was it like just to be able to work with him and have his insight on the character?
RM: J.K. was amazing. I almost threw up in my mouth the first time I gave him direction. I thought, this is crazy! I’m giving direction to J.K. Simmons!
But he was great. We knew that …whoever was reading Ghat, it had to be somebody who could be incredibly cordial, like somebody who would just be in a bathroom sitting next to you. At the same time, they had to be able to get very authoritative, bordering on commanding. J.K. was one of the first names we threw out. And then when we found out how much he loved the script, and that was the other time I thought I was going to vomit. [laughs]
But he has been so supportive of the film this summer and was absolutely fantastic to work with.
SMF: Now that audiences are watching the film on Shudder, what do you hope they are taking away from the experience?
RM: Audience takeaways: I never know how to respond to that.
I think that one of the biggest things that I wanted to bring in with this film was a mix of lowbrow and highbrow that we don’t see a lot now. I am a child of the ’80s and ’90s. I grew up on Frank Henenlotter. That’s my jam. So many of those films that I remember from the ’80s that were some of my faves, they were sort of lowbrow, but they all had some messaging. Like Brain Damage, it’s about drug addiction. The Killer Condom. I still proselytize The Killer Condom, as it’s an amazing movie… very much about STDs and the Gay community. It does not get enough attention.
I don’t think this is something that we see a lot in cinema anymore. The feeling of “I am willing to get dirty and then be knocked over by something deep and maybe even poignant.” That’s one of the things that we wanted to bring to Glorious. I love that we tackle these patriarchal issues, the idea that the toxic masculinity is spread from father to son as represented in both cases by Ghat and Wes. That’s where I find the most meaning, and I hope the audience does as well.
– Interview reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle