A malevolent creature conjured by H.P. Lovecraft, Cthulhu is a monster who serves to remind humanity of its small, feeble understanding of the universe. According to statements by director Dan Gildark (a former NW Film Center student), the monstrous creature was chosen as the focus of his first film soon after the invasion of Iraq, which left both himself and screenwriter (and occasional Mercury contributor) Grant Cogswell feeling similarly powerless in the face of evil.

A quietly compelling horror film, Cthulhu takes place on the Oregon Coast, where gay history professor Russ (Jason Cottle) has returned to his island hometown for his mother's funeral. Having long ago fled to Seattle, Russ finds most everyone he once knew still in his childhood town, including his frightening cult-leader father and his breathy, sexually charged former classmate, Susan (Tori Spelling). The events that follow are purposefully bewildering, but Gildark has a deft grasp on maintaining the audience's interest despite withholding all the answers. (Although the ending arguably takes this concept close to cop-out territory.)

It's difficult to say too much about plot specifics, but Cthulhu is subtle without being too slow, and suspenseful without being corny. In short, it's one of the best regionally made, non-Gus Van Sant-helmed films of the last decade.