Learning of his mother's death, Seattle college professor Russel Marsh (Jason Cottle) returns to his isolated hometown on the coast to act as executor of her will.
Estranged from his family since he came out as gay, he is reunited at his mother's wake with his disapproving father (Dennis Kleinsmith), the head of a New Age cult called The Esoteric Order of Dagon.
Very quickly Russ begins to realise that there are strange things going on in the town, from discovering a strange totem in his hotel bed, through learning of the area's history of "mysterious disappearances", to the apocalyptic ravings of a deranged old fisherman, Zadok (Richard Garfield)... who namedrops "shoggoths".
There's also Russel's aunt in the mental institution, the terrified liquor store clerk with a missing brother, the strange list of names scrawled on the floor and walls of the old net hut, and so on.
It's as though every red flag possible is being waved at the increasingly paranoid and isolated Russ, but the unsettling, dream-like Kafkaesque nature of the events he finds himself trapped in means he can never quite escape the town again.
Ever the outsider, Russ is sceptical when a friend of his sister, a woman called Susan (Beverly Hills 90210's Tori Spelling), tells him he has a great destiny connected to the future of the town ... which is why she later drugs and rapes him!
The only solace Russ finds is with his childhood friend, tow truck driver Mike (Scott Green), their youthful intimacy now blossoming into something possibly deeper.
All of this is set against a backdrop - shared through brief radio and television snippets - of accelerating global collapse.
It's only looking back at Cthulhu after the final credits have rolled that you realise how much was squeezed into a mere 100 minute duration.
But a lot of that was achieved by the immersive fever dream-logic flow of scenic non sequitors, so that much of the time the audience can't be one hundred percent certain that what they are watching on screen is real or an hallucination.
HP Lovecraft famously drew on his own dreams for ideas for his weird fiction, and in Cthulhu writer/director Dan Gildark has delivered a disorientating, nightmarish adaptation of Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth.
I suspect the use of the name Cthulhu, and seemingly conflating it with Dagon in the story, is primarily for name recognition with the broader public.
But this isn't really a film for the masses, as I can't help feeling that a knowledge of Lovecraft's work - and particularly the story this is based upon - would help an audience member navigate the choppy and oft confusing highways and byways this movie wanders down.
Admittedly, some of the vagaries and narrative confusion is compounded by the variable audio quality, and the tendency of certain actors - particularly Scott Green - to mumble their dialogue.
A low-budget indie flick with almost no special effects, much horror is achieved in Cthulhu by what we don't see, by what is suggested, with only glimpses of the giant, pale salamander creatures living in the tunnels, or the shadowy sea creatures walking out of the waves at the climax of the piece.
Having skimmed a few reviews beforehand, I'll confess I went into Cthulhu with very low expectations. Instead, I think I unearthed a flawed gem.
It's far from perfect, but in many ways its imperfections add to the unnerving nature of the protagonist's predicament.
While it's no In The Mouth of Madness, I think Dan Gildark, and co-writer Grant Cogswell, did an impressive job of capturing the spirit and atmosphere of Lovecraftian fiction, especially as it deals with identity and not feeling comfortable in your own skin.
By not spoon-feeding their audience answers, you are drawn into the mystery and horror of the scenario, as confused and befuddled as Russ by much of the goings-on.
- Having imported a DVD of Cthulhu, I've since found that it's available on YouTube (thanks to Mr Gildark) and possibly also on Amazon Prime in the States.
- There's a lengthy, but interesting, article on Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein about the story of the making of Cthulhu.
FILMS WATCHED: 17
NEW TO ME: 13