Glorious Is a Horror Movie With JK Simmons, and Not Much Else

Almost no one saw it, but J.K. Simmons gave one of the greatest performances of all time a couple years back.

From 2017-2019 he was the lead in Counterpart, an alternate world near-future science-fiction show on STARZ, in which he played two different men named Howard Silk. One was a tough-as-nails spy; the other was a quiet nobody.

Simmons could shift from one to the other just through the way he carried his head. Even when he was nice Howard pretending to be bastard Howard, you could still tell instantly. And over the course of two seasons he had each of the characters become more like the other—still distinct, but following a converging emotional arc. It was a dazzling, soulful, brilliant performance.

And then the show was cancelled. And I was bitter.

I got to experience that bitterness again watching Rebekah McKendry’s underwhelming Glorious. I was hopeful going in because J.K. Simmons has a prominent role as a mysterious nightmare God from outside space and time. That sounds appealing. But unfortunately, the talky, half-baked script gives Simmons little scope for his talent. It’s one of the more egregious wastes of an actor in recent memory.

Going to the Bathroom to Despair

Wes (Ryan Kwanten) is exhausted and in distress when he pulls into a remote rest stop. Drunk and half-deranged with some nebulous grief over his abandoned ex-girlfriend Brenda (Sylvia Grace Crim) he burns most of his possessions and his pants. Then he crawls into the restroom to vomit.

After he’s finished a disembodied voice from the other stall strikes up a conversation. The voice (Simmons) says that it is a God or demon destined to destroy the world. Only Wes can prevent the approaching apocalypse, the voice insists. Wes cannot escape, and must listen as the voice drones on, as the bathroom grows increasingly foul, and as the script slowly reveals Wes’ own past trauma and iniquity.

The gross-out aspects are effective enough. Having an all-powerful demon offer to list the kinds of fecal matter you’ve accidentally spread on your hands is good for a laugh and a cough, and the glimpses of the demon itself are repulsive in the way of old-school practical effects. Director McKendry has clearly seen John Carpenter's The Thing and Alien and canonical ooze of that ilk, which is all to the good.

A Cramped Apocalypse

Thematically, the film tries to link Wes’ bleak inner life to the end of the world. His misery is universalized. In part that’s a commentary on his narcissism. In part it’s an illustration of how private pain can blight existence.

The problem is that Wes isn’t a vivid or distinctive enough character to make either his narcissism or his pain particularly compelling. Our screens are filled with tortured jerks, from Walt on Breaking Bad to Homelander on The Boys. Amongst that company, Wes barely registers.

Ryan Kwanten isn’t a bad actor, but neither is he a great one, and the script doesn’t give him a lot to do. He’s basically talking to himself for almost the entire movie, and he has little scope for emotions other than anger, panic, and incredulity. His character development is all in the past. We only see glimpses of it.

J.K. Simmons is a much more talented performer, and he is fully capable of creating powerful characters with limited material. But even he is stymied here. His face is never on screen. Worse, the direction has him displaying almost no emotional range. He reads his outrageous lines about the coming end times with an even lack of inflection. Occasionally he gets angry and the movie adds echoey effects to his voice. He’s a plot device, not a person. Which means you (or at least I) spend the whole movie getting increasingly irritated at the director who decided to waste J.K. Simmons by using him as a plot device.

The Demon Stuffed in the Stall

Obviously, this is a low-budget, scrappy endeavor. McKendry only uses Simmons’ voice rather than his face because the voice is probably all she could afford. She built a small film around Simmons’ large presence the best she could. Ideally, she might have figured out a better way to utilize the resources available. But it’s not like she’s Starz, who had the full power of J.K. Simmons at their command and threw it away.

Still, it’s possible to do a small movie with a small scope and still come away with something interesting. This year’s Alone With You is an analogous locked-room supernatural/psychological horror movie that explores guilt and domestic violence. The difference is that Alone With You creates vivid characters and a real sense of claustrophobia and dread, and gives Barbara Crampton a great little cameo.

Glorious in contrast wheels J.K. Simmons’ voice on, drops a bunch of bathroom jokes (including the obligatory “glory” pun on the title)—and that’s about all. J.K. Simmons drew me into the restroom. But once I got there I wasn’t horrified or impressed so much as I was disappointed.

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Rating: 4.7/10 SPECS

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Featured Image Courtesy of Shudder.

Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.