Site 13 (Movie Review)

Over the past decade or so there has been a massive uptick in adapting the works of Horror master H.P Lovecraft, not just in film, but seemingly all forms of entertainment in Horror and Sci-Fi. This near over saturation of his material is good for exposing more people to one of the most influential writers of the genres, but also has a tendency to miss the mark of what makes his work so compelling.

Unfortunately, Site 13, due July 28th on digital platforms, is of the latter category, forgetting one of the key components that make Lovecraft’s brand of Cosmic Horror work – indifference. Too often a facile understanding of the material leads to underwhelming results, and, along with a poor script and being hampered by a shoestring budget, Site 13 is in a word, ineffective.

Nathan Faudree writes, directs, and stars in this story about Dr. Nathan Marsh, who has awoken from a ten year coma, and is now in a mental institution after a calamitous event at an expedition to uncover the secret of mysterious gateways to another dimension. This dimension is predictably the home of an outer god who, despite being an eternal being who exists outside our understanding of time and space, is waiting for the opportunity to come to Earth to terrorize its inhabitants with Dr. Marsh as the catalyst. Just why Marsh is the centerpiece of this plan, or how his eventual realization of how to stop the god works, are never adequately explained. The result is a meandering mess of one scene to the next, several of which are laughably written, that lack any real substance for the audience to hold on to.

Site 13

Besides Marsh, there is Dr. Catherine Charter (Katie Gibson), a psychologist who has somehow worked with Marsh for ten years, this in addition to the ten years he’s been catatonic, yet they appear aged 40. She is the crisis of faith character lead we’ve all seen before, but like most other elements of this film, that just doesn’t have the impact it should. The eventual explanation of her leaving the faith takes too long, and when it arrives it’s underwhelming. Despite the lackluster material, Actress Katie Gibson is the best performer of the film and does a serviceable job.

The other present-day character is sister Margaret, played by Leila Dean (Concrete Skies 2003, Transformation 2016). She is a nun who knows Catherine from her days in the fold, and is the one who brings her back to the case. One would think a psychologist who worked with a patient for ten years wouldn’t need much convincing to do so. Sister Margaret not only drinks shots of booze at the bar with Catherine, but she also is a badass slayer of possessed drones of the evil god. She’s far too ” cool” for the story and can’t be taken seriously from the start. The only other characters are from flashbacks of the ill-fated expedition, who we never get to know much at all, and serve as simple plot devices.

Site 13

This film is said to be shot over the course of seventeen years,  which makes one wonder how the enormous dents in the script weren’t hammered out. The dialogue is bad, the characters more or less flat, and above all, the core element of unknowable power is misunderstood and misrepresented. This is evident in a tagline for the film -”evil never dies.” The Cosmic Horror of Lovecraft is not about evil, it’s about indifference. It’s about how the human mind cannot cope with the realization that power beyond its understanding exists, thereby throwing into chaos our ideas of life and our place in the universe. The madness often exhibited by the characters who uncover eldritch truths is not borne of fear, but realization, which begets an extreme sense of existential dread. The outer gods couldn’t care less about us, the same way we don’t think of the microscopic life around us. This is essential for any Lovecraft adaptation to explore, but too many settle for a misplaced evil monster who wants to kill everything narrative.

Overall, Site 13 exhibits the worst understandings of Lovecraftian Horror and almost none of its good ones. It isn’t scary, the atmosphere is hollow, and the eldritch horror is invested in conquest. Sadly the film is ineffective at nearly everything it tries, and as a result there is unfortunately not much to recommend here. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Site 13 1.5 out of 5 stars. 

Site 13 (2023)

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