Glorious is almost certainly the strangest, most bizarre, and surreal movie you’ll watch in 2022, a year which has already given us the divisive but hugely-acclaimed Everything Everywhere All At Once. Glorious is on another level entirely. Undoubtedly filmed on a tiny budget with a minimum of location filming and largely on one set Glorious is as ferociously imaginative as it’s mind-bending and thought-provoking. It’s a film that’s open to any number of interpretations; it’s about guilt, sin, redemption, humanity, religion, sanity and, fundamentally, a mysterious deity driven out of his ethereal state by his demonic father and who will cause the destruction of the Earth when he attains corporeality. This largely takes place, incidentally, in a filthy, grungy graffiti-daubed restroom at an isolated rest stop in the middle of nowhere.
Ryan Kwanten (True Blood, Them) plays Wes. Sweaty, anxious, and clearly troubled, Wes leaves pleading voicemail messages for a young girl whose photo he desperately clutches. He’s in emotional turmoil. Pulling into the rest stop, he sets off on a one-man bender, drowning himself in booze and waking up face down in the dirt having burned most of his possessions, including his own trousers. He stumbles into the restroom and strikes up a conversation with an anonymous voice emanating from one of the toilet stalls. It’s the unmistakable and striking tones of JK Simmons (who doesn’t actually appear in the film physically) and their initial chat is as awkward as you might expect in the circumstances. But Wes, already half-dazed from the previous night’s excesses and confused and disorientated, finds himself locked in the restroom as the disembodied voice, to the accompaniment of glowing lights radiating out from under the wall, tells him that he is the harbinger of doom for the planet and that Wes may be the only person who can save the Earth from destruction… but at a cost. Meanwhile, the voice’s malevolent father has tracked him down and is approaching fast…
Glorious (the name appears to be a pun based on the 'glory hole' between the two toilet stalls that Wes initially tries to resist looking through) is quite an extraordinary achievement by director Rebekah McKendry, who really exploits the limitations of the story’s central setting and turns it to the film’s advantage by making it a stifling, oppressive, and horribly threatening place that we are as keen to escape from as Wes. The conversation between Wes and 'the being' is often deeply philosophical and metaphysical – perhaps we can’t even be really sure that the situation even exists, it may be some fever dream brought on by Wes’s condition and the trauma that’s haunting him. A last reel twist takes the film into ever-weirder territory as we find out a little bit more about Wes and his relationship with his girlfriend (there are a couple of flashbacks that fill in the detail about how they met and the path their relationship took that seem to jar with the tone of the rest of the film) and the climax itself has an unreal, fantastical element that leaves us with more questions than answers. Was the whole experience a psychological result of what we eventually find out about Wes , a nightmare brought about by his own situation and his attempts to drown his own past… or did he really have a close encounter with strange beings from some unnameable reality? Glorious invites us to make our own choices, and come to our own conclusions.
Glorious doesn’t outstay its welcome, running to just under 80 minutes as if it recognises that its scenario and its claustrophobic setting is likely to try the patience of its audience. But in the end, it’s as long as it needs to be and no more and that’s both a relief and a refreshing change in an era of bloated blockbusters. Puzzling, perplexing, sometimes archly funny but never less than utterly absorbing, Glorious is one of the under-the-radar film experiences of 2022 that deserves to find favour with an audience that likes its genre movies ambiguous and intellectually-challenging.
Glorious is available on Shudder from August 18th