Making a good film adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft movie is hard. This movie tries but doesn’t quite succeed. It’s not bad, it’s very watchable, but not great as either a horror movie or a Lovecraft adaptation, in my opinion just missing the mark. I give it a lot of credit for effort though.
The film is loosely based on Lovecraft’s story “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” though instead of being set in the creepy coastal New England down of Innsmouth it is set in the creepy coastal Spanish town of Imboca (and is not a period piece story, as this film came out in 2001 and seems to be set at that time). The film centers on the character Paul Marsh (played by Ezra Godden), who starts out the film dreaming of a beautiful mermaid (played by Macarena Gomez) near some mysterious underwater ruins. He wakes up, finding he is back on a sail boat with his girlfriend Barbara (played by Raquel Merono) and their older friends Vicki and Howard.
A sudden storm blows up, the ship wrecks against some rocks, and Vicki is injured. With Howard staying with Vicki, Paul and Barbara go to the seaside village they can easily see from the sail boat by an inflatable boat they have on board. The town appears to be deserted, has a big-time creepy vibe, it is driving rain, but look, in the abandoned church with Strange Symbols, they meet a very helpful priest with webbed hands (!) who offers to stay with Barbara while Paul accompanies some local fishermen in their boat to try and retrieve Vicki and Howard. At that point the four people are in the clutches of the creepy townsfolk, and isn’t long before they are all either on the run or captured (or on the run and captured) in a Lovecraftian town of Deformed Mutant Villagers, a Dark Past, and Demonic Rituals to Summon Otherworldly Monsters.
It isn’t a bad film and it definitely tries. The positives include Ezra Godden’s performance as Paul Marsh, very relatable, believable as an everyman doing his best in strange situation, sometimes scared, often brave, showing real ingenuity, and with plenty of Come On! type moments. There seems to be a real reverence for the Lovecraftian source material (not the racist bits, but the cool monster, creepy town, and dark ritual bits). We see the mermaid again, the actress playing her very beautiful and the role not particularly Lovecraftian but one I rather liked and was much more interesting than I thought it would be. There is a lot of exposition in one scene but I appreciated how it was done in a flashback, so points for that. The creepy, rainy, scary town was well done, perfect for the film. There is some CGI at the end and while it isn’t great it isn’t horrible and we don’t see it long. Some of the make up at times was kind of eh but sometimes it could be quite good. There is a costume in the third act that had strong Big Trouble in Little China vibes and I liked that. A few of the mermaid scenes were actually quite beautiful.
The bad, the movie meanders a lot as Paul gets in and out of trouble in the village in the middle act. Some of the other reviews note bad acting. Some I chalk up to language issues (the actress who played Barbara, Raquel Merono, did not appear to be a native English speaker and I thought did fine but the language issue was there) but the acting I had the most trouble with were the creepy townsfolk, who looked at times like costumed random extras from a suburban residential area press ganged into a movie; they did their best but it wasn’t always great. There were scenes in Spanish and I couldn’t always get an English translation of what was being said, though I don’t recall this ever being enough to make it impossible to follow the overall plot. One character’s accent was extremely thick and I had to turn on subtitles to understand his English at times, though overall I liked the character and the actor. Though overall I liked the Paul Marsh character, the movie seemed to shy away from making him quite as humorous as he could be, almost as if the actor was game and could handle it, but the writer, director pulled back. I don’t think a lot of tweaking would have been needed to make it a more humorous (but not campy) film.
At times the movie could be pretty gory. Also there is a fair amount of female nudity too (rear and topless shots) thought they didn’t seem gratuitous (one in a ritual scene and also some mermaid related toplessness).
Not a bad film. If you are a Lovecraft fan you know it is slim pickings as far as movie adaptations go so I would say check it out. It is also the last film role of Francisco Rabal, an actor who appeared in a number of films including Sorcerer.