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.

Lighthouse_Poster
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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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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The awkward beauty of an animated heist: Ruben Brandt, Collector

Last Thanksgiving, I saw an avant garde video installation at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof. It was installed in the large, dark, open space behind the reception desk where the trains used to pull up to the platforms. The space has been a museum for a while now, housing carefully and sparsely displayed modern art (think, a can of Pepsi sitting on a white plinth) — but in this case less is just right, it really takes a lot of brain power to pour some of that stuff into my head.

Continue reading “The awkward beauty of an animated heist: Ruben Brandt, Collector”

Orlando Ballet’s Carmina Burana: fortune’s fury in one intense act

I am interrupting Late to the Theater’s horror month to bring you my review of Orlando Ballet’s Carmina Burana, and I will start with a confession: I did not pay close enough attention to the playbill to notice that there was no intermission, and I kept patiently waiting for it so that I could go powder my nose.

By dance number sixteen I thought: holy cow this is going to be a four-hour extravaganza! And by dance 25, I realized it was already the reprise of O Fortuna, and I’d watched the whole ballet. (And then I raced myself to the beautifully appointed Harriett’s Lady’s Lounge after the second or third curtain call…)

Clocking in at an hour-fifteen it is a spare yet intense ballet. We discussed the creation of it with Mr. Robert Hill, choreographer, in this piece a few weeks ago, and I’ll point you there for some background in the earworm-inspiring music and philosophy behind the choreography. On to the review.

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In Theaters Now: Hereditary

 

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This poster is en Francais! Fancy!

As a lifelong horror fan, I can confidently say that there are two kinds of horror movies that do well at the box office.

The first kind of horror movie delivers on thrills and jump scares. Friends have fun clinging to each other, spilling popcorn and jumping in their seats. Afterward, the group quote lines at each other or mimic trademark gestures or sounds, and Halloween Horror Nights has a new haunted house theme. These movies are certainly effective, but it’s not that hard to leave them at the theater.

Hereditary is the other kind of horror movie.

I don’t mean I’m going to check under my bed for anything scary tonight. I mean something else entirely, and quite honestly I don’t even want to talk about it too much because I want people to experience the film for themselves. But I’m going to talk about it and so of course, spoilers will go below the cut. 

Hereditary begins with an obituary. A matriarch has died, and right away Annie (played by Toni Collette) gives a halting but brutally honest eulogy about the complicated relationship she had with her mother. Grandma’s death sets off a chain of events that at first seem normal to a family dealing with grief, but soon even the cracks start to show cracks.

Hereditary is getting mixed reviews, and for good reason: not everyone is going to get it. I don’t say that to sound cool or jaded, I say that because I could hear other moviegoers laughing at certain parts that I found incredibly effective–parts that were almost too effective. This movie upset me quite a bit at times, even though the projector broke two-thirds in and we had to wait half an hour for the staff to fix it.

But when the action started back up, nobody moved or laughed for the rest of the movie.

I can absolutely recommend Hereditary to fans of real, provocative horror. Casual filmgoers might want to wait for home release.

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