In Theaters Now: The Lighthouse (2019)

In Theaters Now entries give insight on films currently in theaters. There is a brief review, followed by a deeper dive with SPOILERS behind the cut.

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Teeny Poster

To paraphrase someone paraphrasing Freud, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar… unless it’s an 80 foot phallus symbolizing man’s hubristic attempt to navigate the tempestuous deeps of the sea and therefore also the human subconscious.

Let’s dive in!

The Lighthouse (2019) is a historical thriller/horror film by the writer/director team of Robert and Max Eggers, fresh off their success of 2016’s jolly lighthearted romp, The VVitch. If you haven’t seen The VVItch please know I just made a joke and with the exception of Black Phillip, it is neither lighthearted nor jolly. The Eggerses have already cemented their reputation as masters of subverting horror tropes with The VVitch, and The Lighthouse delivers more of the same, yet different. Magnificent costumes, an eerie score, and some soon-to-be legendary performances all combine to make an instant classic.

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“More o’ the same, says ye?” 

From the very opening scene, the film establishes itself with an aspect ratio of 1:19.1, which means the image is square. Filmed with a variety of cameras and lenses, including 35mm and some antique equipment dating back to 1918, the resultant effect is distinctive. There was even a little sign on the way into the theater stating, more or less, ‘Yes it is supposed to be that way please don’t tell us there’s something wrong with it.’ Between the peculiar aspect ratio, the black and white photography, stark compositions, and claustrophobic but vivid angles, it feels almost as if you’re watching some brilliant throwback from the dawn of cinema, the age where so many cinematic horror traditions were founded. Another reason I was reminded of that age was Pattinson’s performance, as his wide eyes and shaggy hair reminded me of Conrad Veidt in the immortal Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

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Fun fact: Cesar the Sleepwalker’s resemblance to Edward Scissorhands started me on my journey to being a film critic. 

The story is fairly straightforward: Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson, sporting a more than passing 19th century Maine accent) has found work for the United States Lighthouse Service and is being dropped off to join Tom Wake (Willem Dafoe, genetically engineered to play this role; if he doesn’t go full Hemingway in the next 10 years we will have failed as a civilization).

The Lighthouse stands on a godforsaken, storm-washed rock infested with stroppy seabirds. The remote environment has already claimed one life, as Winslow is replacing a young man who went mad, claiming mermaids were singing to him. From the moment he arrives, Wake rides Winslow to get to work, quickly establishing a nautically flavored pecking order. Winslow is soon given almost more work than he can humanly do, and resentment blooms between the two men. The sonorous blast of a foghorn, noticeable early on and which should be jarring, inures itself and becomes no more remarkable than gulls crying or waves crashing. Wake gives Winslow task after task and insists they be done to his exacting standard, but the one thing Winslow is forbidden from servicing is The Light.

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Seriously, this movie still looks like a photo from that time period. SO PERFECTLY DONE. 

As the story winds out, it challenges the audience to read between the obvious threads: Is Wake real? Is Winslow? What really happened to the previous employee? How much of Wake’s Old Salt routine is an act, if any? What the hell is up between him and The Light?

Although Winslow manages the punishing routine well enough during his month-long assignment, a bad storm strands him on the island and he, already starting to unravel, comes straight off the spool. But anyone who’s watched the trailer knows that; the real treat is seeing it happen, how, and why. Viewers quickly realize that mysteries abound within Winslow, too.

Fans of H.P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, and the other voices of early 20th century Weird fiction will find plenty to love, as well as the dialogue, which was inspired by both Shakespeare and Herman Mellville. I will say that when the film comes out for home release I will appreciate the subtitles, as I sometimes couldn’t understand the dialogue and certainly missed crucial plot info. Fans of season 1 of The Terror, would also greatly appreciate the film and its depiction of 19th century nautical life.

And now… To the Spoilers!

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In Theaters Now: Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark

In Theaters Now entries give insight on films currently in theaters. There is a brief review, followed by a deeper dive WITH SPOILERS behind the cut. 

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Pictured: The leading face of my nightmares from 1992-1993. What up, Harold? 

Overall

As an experience, Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark is a delightfully creepy tale.  Based on the legendary book series illustrated by someone who very probably hated children and wanted them to lose sleep, the film creates a narrative out of the otherwise disparate and well-loved stories. The Wendigo (my fave!), The Big Toe, and a few others I’ll refrain from mentioning are present.  The story structure is simple: taking place in Halloween 1968, some kids who trespass into a local haunted house and steal a book of ghost stories that belonged to the local crazy lady must deal with the aftermath. The book’s stories, written in blood, almost always kill the protagonist, and there are both old stories and new ones that appear as events unfold. There are haunted houses, creepy music boxes, mental hospitals, a jerk bully, and all the classic fare.

I would recommend the film for fans of horror, the original book series, and people looking for a thrill. But I stress: just because it’s rated PG-13 doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for children. One family had a 4-year-old present, and while he was chattering away before the movie, I hope his lapse into silence was because he fell asleep and not into a state of paralytic horror. Bad Parenting Decision, Random Family.

Although the movie is a delightful and terrifying romp, it didn’t have the emotional depth I was hoping for. I mention this because when Guillermo Del Toro’s name is attached to something, I expect an emotional payoff.  André Øvredal directed the film and I know he knows how to tell an emotional story because he made The Trollhunter. That isn’t to say the movie isn’t worth seeing, but if you’re looking for Deep Meaning Subtext as I did, you’ll leaving feeling a bit let down.

For more in-depth discussion involving spoilers, dive below the cut!

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Best of the Best – Good Omens (2019)

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Watching Game of Thrones the last few years trained me into a particular habit that I’m sure I’m not alone in – after watching the show and either blogging or tweeting about it that night, I’d get up in the morning, go into work, and open up Buzzfeed or i09 for Hot Takes to either expand my understanding of the media, or find someone to argue with.

Imagine my complete and utter shock this morning when I, coffee in hand, could find nothing on either of those sites about Amazon’s recent adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens. Twitter was ablaze, but I can only get so much work done with one eye on my desktop and one eye on my phone. Where were the memes? Where were the takes, Hot, Cold, or otherwise? Mysteries abounded. [Editor’s Note – I started this entry on Monday, when takes were scarce. Now, they are bountiful.]

That said, HERE. HERE is a place for discussion and fandom and Hot Takes! HERE! And in deference to folks with lives who didn’t sit on their butts all weekend and watch it twice (ME! I’m talking about MEEEE), spoilers will go under the cut.

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An Actual Hot Take

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Art like diving into Kool-Aide: OMA’s Florida Prize 2019

It was big. Vivid. Sometimes small and vivid. Moving images, still paintings, oversized trees, tiny artist’s studio dollhouses full of even tinier spray cans of paint. Orlando Museum of Art held its 2019 Florida Prize exhibit opening last Friday, and damn, is it worth going to see.

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Wick, John Wick

I saw John Wick Chapter 3 — Parabellum last night, and most of all, I adore the dark beauty of John Wick’s world. It felt like a traditional fairy tale in a lot of ways — not the scrubbed clean stories of Grimm, but the real ones, where the hero has to defeat untold odds and the heroine’s mother dances to her death in shoes made of molten iron and stuff.

Spoilers below!

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