Films set in a single location are deceptively complex. While the filmmaker might not have to worry about scouting numerous spaces or traveling days between their various sets, that potential logistic ease brings up a whole new set of issues that multi-location shoots never dream of conquering. How the heck do you shoot one room in enough different ways to look interesting for a feature-length film? How do you craft an entire story arc without allowing the characters to explore new situations outside? And how do you create a story that makes sense to contain in one spot? Glorious takes on all of these questions and answers them with a little help from J.K. Simmons and H.P. Lovecraft.
These types of films are established enough to earn their own label: Chamber films. Obviously taking the name from the theater’s “chamber play” format, these movies have a few basic elements in common. They take place in basically one set. They take place over a limited amount of time. They have relatively few cast members. This might all sound like music to the ears of a limited-budget director, but these restraints put a sharper focus on storytelling, performance and editing than one might anticipate. The flaws are easier to see in this simplified format, as are the successes. For every pristine example (12 Angry Men), there is a disappointment (2012’s Elevator). It is a tough nut to crack.
Not only are chamber films budget-friendly, they are also more COVID-friendly than other productions, which brings us to Glorious. Director Rebekah McKendry took on this story—of the dark things that can happen in a men’s bathroom—during one of the darker times in our recent history.
Wes (Ryan Kwanten) is clearly going through something major when he rolls into an unspecified rest stop. He is screaming, crying, having flashbacks and an overall bad time when he comes upon that nugget of respite on the highway. Unlike most travelers, however, he starts chugging whiskey and burning stuff in the conveniently located fire pit. After passing out, he wakes in the morning pantsless and with a helluva hangover. Naturally, he heads into the rest stop’s men’s room to see what can be done to get back on his feet and moving along.
The bathroom looks fairly standard, neither filthy nor nauseating. It has two stalls, a few sinks and a healthy schmear of graffiti. The most remarkable feature of this bathroom is a glory hole going from one stall to the other, and the friendly and clear voice coming from the second, closed-door stall.
J.K. Simmons’ voice is as identifiable as Kermit the Frog’s, and casting him as the detached annunciator from the far side of the bathroom is a brilliant play. It is hard to not engage with his enticing tone, and Wes barely tries to resist the pull. They get through pleasantries and a few polite chuckles before this voice tells Wes he cannot leave the bathroom. He is dead serious.
This is the entirety of Glorious: Wes talking to a voice coming from the other side of the shitter, staying put in this rest stop bathroom, without pants. But even with these very tight constraints, Glorious shapes up to be much more than that. Wes is taken through his personal history, that which brought him to be in that specific place at that specific time. The voice also shows that it can do more than just boom and echo against the tile, and Wes soon learns to not take this experience lightly.
Glorious would completely fall apart were it left to an actor who was not up to the challenge, but Kwanten nails it. Given that he is only ever acting against a bathroom stall or his own reflection, it is impressive that he is able to carry the audience through the many emotional pivots Wes goes through in 79 minutes. We do not have a lot of time to get to know him before the tension escalates, and Kwanten’s performance makes sure we never miss a single beat of his suffering or frustration.
Where Glorious stumbles a bit is in the mythology it hopes to create. From early on it is evident that there are greater forces at play, and whatever is talking to Wes is just easing him into the enormous world of its making. There are clear nods to Greek mythology and Lovecraft’s visions of the elder gods, but it feels more like a collage of random elements than the creation of a cohesive, reimagined mythology. Much like the graffiti on the bathroom walls, it is a collection of Easter eggs, not a single sweeping mythos. The allusions are fun to identify, but it feels like a missed opportunity to create a truly defined experience for Wes and this voice.
Given its limited cast, location and budget, Glorious is an impressive feat. It never drags or feels more claustrophobic than intended. Thanks to strong performances and mostly tight writing, it’s a tense little chamber film, with deities and grand ideas, but without pants.
Director: Rebekah McKendry
Writer: Todd Rigney, Joshua Hull, David Ian McKendry
Stars: Ryan Kwanten, J.K. Simmons
Release Date: August 18, 2022 (Shudder)
Deirdre Crimmins is a Chicago-based film critic who lives with two black cats, and her eternal optimism that the next film she watches might be her new favorite. She wrote her Master’s thesis on George Romero and still loves a good musical.