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Film / The Whisperer in Darkness

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The Whisperer in Darkness is a 2011 science fiction film based on the 1931 novella by H. P. Lovecraft.

It was produced by Sean Branney, Andrew Leman, and David Robertson and distributed by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society. As per HPLHS's The Call of Cthulhu, it uses the Mythoscope blend of vintage and modern filming techniques to produce the look of a 1930s-era Universal Horror film, though given the era this one is a talkie instead of a silent film.

The film has the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Villainy: In the story, the Mi-Go are certainly not "friendly", but they're largely disinterested in humanity and only aggressive in covering their tracks. In the film, they're more openly malevolent.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The movie depicts the events of the short story but adds a 'third act'. Where the book ends with Wilmarth's flight from Akeley's farm and back home, the movie goes on to have him thwart a ritual preceding an Alien Invasion by the Mi-Go, and fight them in a mid-air combat scene. Since the ending is no less Lovecraftian for it, general consensus is that the movie is, as per HPLHS's silent movie The Call of Cthulhu, a loyal adaptation of the Cthulhu Mythos to film.
  • Alien Invasion: The Mi-Go plan to open a wormhole to Earth to bring through an invasion force.
  • Ancient Astronauts: The Mi-Go have been coming to Earth for millions of years.
  • And I Must Scream: When Akeley realises he's been turned into a Brain in a Jar, he begs Wilmarth to kill him. When B-67 is murdered by Noyce all he can do is scream.
  • And Introducing: Autumn Wendel as Hannah.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: Played with; Akeley does not actually become one of the creatures, but he does join their community, as it were.
  • Ascended Extra: George Akeley was only mentioned in the original story and didn't make any physical appearances. In the movie, he is a key liaison between his father and Professor Wilmarth.
  • Battle Discretion Shot: Wilmarth notes the bulletholes in the wall next to the door, implying that Akeley had fired at something inside the house.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Will Masterson shoots himself rather than face the Cosmic Horror to come.
  • Big Electric Switch: As per the genre, one is used by Wilmarth to shut down the Mi-Go's Mad Scientist Laboratory.
  • Black Speech: Nathaniel Ward quickly switches off the phonograph when Wilmarth says he's been listening to the wax cylinder recording of the cultist ceremony throughout the night.
  • Blood-Splattered Innocents: Hannah is splattered with her father's blood when he kills himself.
  • Brain in a Jar: The alien Mi-Go place living human brains in cylinders to transport them through space to other planets, which the human body apparently cannot withstand. The film ends with The Reveal that this happened to Albert Wilmarth himself, and the entire story he's been relating is a holographic projection coming from a brain in a can.
  • Brain Transplant: The Mi-Go can remove and implant brains with ease. Not necessarily in the same body.
  • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: Wilmarth discovers the Mi-Go performing a ritual that will open a portal and allow for a mass invasion. He succeeds in preventing said invasion, though most likely only temporarily. He is also unable to escape from the Mi-Go, with the final scene revealing his brain has been removed and placed into a jar for transport.
  • Canon Foreigner:
    • Hannah.
    • Wilmarth's three friends at Miskatonic University—in the original story, he doesn't consult any of his colleagues, despite being tempted to, because Akeley persuades him it's better not to put any more people in danger. They were developed from Call of Cthulhu role-playing characters created by the filmmakers years before.
  • Cat Scare: Hannah grabs Wilmarth's shoulder while he's listening in on the cultists.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The cropduster on the Masterson farm.
  • Closeup on Head: Turns out it's only the head, as Wilmarth is narrating events via the holographic projection machine.
  • Consummate Liar: The Mi-Go about most things, according to Masterson.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Obviously, it's Lovecraft.
  • Creator Cameo:
    • Producer Andrew Leman as Charles Fort.
    • Director Sean Branney as B-67.
  • Cult: The Collaborators who will open the gate for the Mi-Go, who manipulate the humans through promises of knowledge or power.
  • Cyber Cyclops: The Mi-Go don't have eyes, just a head-like growth with tendrils, but wear helmets with a single occular lens during the mid-air battle.
  • Death by Adaptation:
    • B-67 is killed by Noyes. In the story, he survives and departs with the Mi-Go at the end.
    • Noyes is killed in a You Have Failed Me moment after Wilmarth foils the aliens' plan. In the story, Wilmarth fails to foil anything of significance, and Noyes lives on to continue serving them.
    • George Akeley is killed by the Mi-Go while attempting to deliver the Black Stone to Wilmarth. In the story, he's grown up and left home and living on the far side of the country before his father gets tangled with the Mi-Go, misses all the excitement, and survives.
    • Albert Wilmarth (sort of). He doesn't die, but he does get captured and have his brain put in a jar, whereas in the story he escapes with all his bits intact.
  • Death of a Child: Wilmarth really, really tries to save Hannah, but after she bravely throws a gas cylinder from a plane into a Mi-Go's face (?), another one simply picks her out of the cockpit and dangles her around before dropping her screaming to her death. This marks the point where Wilmarth decides to kill himself by crashing the plane into the Mi-Go portal.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The film was shot in black and white in homage to the 1930s talkies.
  • Disney Villain Death: Inverted in that its not a villain, but poor little Hannah. The viewer even sees her flailing as she plummets into the abyss
  • Downer Ending: Wilmarth ends up in a brain cylinder, and it's implied the invasion has only been delayed, with the Mi-Go revealing their planet to human eyes in order to entice our curiosity.
  • Easily Conquered World: What will happen if the Mi-Go come through the gate.
    Wilmarth: We can't just surrender!
    Masterson: They won't let us surrender! We've already lost!
  • The End... Or Is It?: It's implied that the recent discovery of Pluto is just a ruse to draw humans to their world.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog:
    • In a Missing Trailer Scene Wilmarth listens to a wax cylinder recording of a man spouting occult ravings while a cat sits impassively nearby. Suddenly ANOTHER voice cuts in on the recording, and the cat startles and hisses.
    • Dogs have a mutual enmity with the Mi-Go.
  • Eye Lights Out: The binocular device B-67 uses to see winks out when he's killed.
  • Flashback Echo: To the drawings of the black stones in his notes when Wilmarth sees a photograph of one.
  • Force-Field Door: There's a protective hex above the door of the barn where Hannah is hiding to stop the Mi-Go entering. So they fly up to the roof and start ripping it open.
  • Foreshadowing: Just before Wilmarth's narration begins, there's a staticky whining noise like an old-fashioned radio being tuned. The significance of this, which is only apparent on a repeat viewing, is that Wilmarth is speaking through one of the Mi-Go's holographic projectors after having his brain removed and put in a canister.
  • For Science!: Wilmarth's justification for going to Vermont despite Nate's warning.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Will Masterson's body lying on the floor, the head blocked by furniture. Averted when Wilmarth finds Akeley's body in which the skull is still moving.
  • Harbinger of Impending Doom
    Noyce: Now Walter, we don't need to scare the man.
    Walter: I'm the last person he should be afraid of.
  • Helicopter Pack: The Mi-Go wear a Diesel Punk engine pack with vibrating wings to pursue the protagonist in his biplane.
  • Hero of Another Story: Nathaniel Ward, one of Wilmarth's colleagues at the Miskatonic University, and the one who tries hardest to convince him not to investigate the Mi-Go, seems to be a recurring character in HPLHS stories. In the movie, it is mentioned that he has encountered various cults before, and he uses the scarring of his left hand to try warn Wilmarth that "he doesn't want to know the truth". In addition to this, he co-authored with Wilmarth a monograph available for purchase at the HPLHS Bazaar. Last but not least, the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre website makes mention of our hearing "some Nate Ward stories" in audio-drama form one day.
    • Ward subsequently stars in the aforementioned Brotherhood of the Beast, as well as appearing in supporting roles in Imprisoned with the Pharoahs and Dagon. Weirdly, he's also mentioned in the Dark Adventure adaptation of Whisperer, which has a completely different ending from the film, where Wilmarth goes on the run from the Mi-Go in the protective custody of Ward's wealthy associate Charlie Tower rather than being turned into a Brain in a Jar.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Subverted. After the Mi-Go kill Hannah, Wilmarth decides to crash his biplane into the sacred circle used to create wormholes. As the plane dives we Smash to Black, yet his voiceover continues as if he's still alive until we discover he's in a brain cylinder.
  • High-Altitude Battle: Biplane vs. helicopter pack-wearing aliens!
  • Historical Domain Character: Charles Fort makes a guest appearance in the movie (he's not part of the original story).
  • Hologram: Akeley gets Wilmarth to hook up one of the brain cylinders to a machine. Wilmarth is in the midst of saying that he's not going to be fooled by some parlour trick with a radio, when he's shocked to see B-67's head projected via hologram, speaking back to him.
  • Hologram Projection Imperfection: Those in the brain cylinders communicate with outsiders via a hologram which pops and fizzes excessively.
  • Hope Spot: Hannah hitting the Mi-Go clamped to their wing in the face. Then another Mi-Go swoops down and plucks her out of the cockpit, dropping her from a great height.
  • Immune to Bullets: Apparently not, as Akeley was able to shoot one of them.
  • Insectoid Aliens: The Mi-Go can fit, although they are more commonly described as crustaceans.
  • Kick the Dog: The deaths of B-67 (by Noyce) and Hannah (by the Mi-Go).
  • Large Ham: Noyce and Masterson.
    Noyce: I am the Opener of the Gate, and YOU WILL NOT DICTATE TO ME!
  • Mercy Kill: Averted; Wilmarth appears to be going to do this to Akeley, but can't go through with it. Will Masterson then appears and says he should have done so.
  • Milking the Giant Cow
    Noyce: Do you dare to defy us?!
  • Minion with an F in Evil: Will Masterson tries to warn off the protagonist, though he's too afraid to help him.
  • Mood Dissonance: The calm telepathic voices of the Mi-Go.
  • Music for Courage: Averted when Wilmarth offers to sing for Hannah like he did for his daughter to lift her spirits. Hannah refuses and Wilmarth looks relieved.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Akeley's reaction to the news that he sent his son to his death by asking him to deliver the black stone to Wilmarth.
  • No Name Given: The man whose brain is in cylinder B-67.
  • Noodle Incident: Nate tries to warn off Wilmarth by showing him the mutilated hand he got while investigating "nameless cults".
  • Not so Dire: Wilmarth looks away in horror as a Mi-Go advances towards Hannah, only for it to be revealed it hasn't hurt her.
  • Our Wormholes Are Different: Although called a 'spirit door', it's clearly referring to a wormhole capable of bringing the invasion force.
  • People Jars: The bodies are stored separately in a cave which the protagonist later enters, horrified to find the faceless corpse of Akeley plugged into tubes and twitching as if still alive.
  • Plummet Perspective: Wilmarth's torch and Hannah's shoe.
  • Posthumous Narration: Turns out Wilmarth's Not Quite Dead, but has been describing the events from inside a brain cylinder.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Hannah for Wilmarth, who lost his wife and daughter in the Spanish influenza epidemic.
  • Resistance Is Futile: Mi-Go tell Wilmarth that he cannot escape or succeed. Of course, unlike in countless instances where this trope is invoked, the Mi-Go is right.
  • Retraux: The film-makers intended to capture the look of classic Universal Horror films of the 1930s like Dracula, Frankenstein and King Kong.
  • Rule of Cool: Regarding the introduction of a High-Altitude Battle, Leman commented "If you have monsters that fly, you have to have a dogfight with a biplane."
  • Secret Circle of Secrets: The cult attempting to open a wormhole to the Mi-Go's planet for an Alien Invasion.
  • See-Thru Specs: Wilmarth is unimpressed when George Akeley turns up with a photograph of a creature his father supposedly shot, yet there's nothing to be seen because they're allegedly made up of 'a different kind of matter'. Until one of the scientists uses a parallax viewer, revealing the creepy sight of the Starfish Aliens Mi-Go.
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: The Mi-Go in Akeley's house, and later 'Akeley' removing his face and hands.
  • Spooky Photographs: The Mi-Go don't show up on film because they're made up of 'a different kind of matter', until one of the scientists uses a parallax viewer.
  • Telepathy:
    "Have you seen one, up close? They can put thoughts right into your head!"
  • When It Rains, It Pours: Floods and constant rain herald the upcoming apocalypse.
  • You Have Failed Me: The Mi-Go butcher Noyce (and presumably the other cultists) after the gate is closed on them.