If The Witch was Robert Eggers’ cinematic interpretation of a ‘New-England Folktale’, The Lighthouse is an archaic, 19th century, sailors’ sea shanty brought to the screen. Yes, that’s right — the new atmospheric, slow burn, character-driven, A24 released horror film is here with a substantial October opening and a potential low CinemaScore. What it does have, however, is a strong two-man show, a square 1.19:1 aspect ratio, and a deep love for the visual motifs of the German Expressionist movement; Through that, Eggers successfully harkens back to a horror era gone by whilst still offering enough originality, drama, examinations of masculinity, sexual frustration, and plenty of bodily fluids along the way. That’s a pretty stormy sea to navigate! Avast, me hearties.
In case you were wondering what the hell The Lighthouse is actually about, the plot details and trailer for the film are vague for a reason. The film opens with two lighthouse keepers, the ever-iconic Willem Dafoe, and the newly accepted indie darling Robert Pattinson, as they arrive at a remote New England island. Soon, they are stranded by the onslaught of a storm where their sanities are tested and all concept of time gets lost in the ether. Terrorized by shreiking mermaids and angry seagulls, the relationship between the two lighthouse keepers shifts with nearly every scene in hellish isolation and the deep repression that comes with it.
If you are familiar with Eggers’ debut, The Witch, you’d understand Eggers is committed to his period aesthetics. He has his actors speak in ye olde tongue, and every mannerism, voice inflection, accent, and piece of slang is accounted for — but on top of that, The Lighthouse decides to be a lot less straightforward and more minimalist than The Witch. The result is a film that can be a bit hard to swallow (not unlike Dafoe’s lobster) but relishes in being a bizarre, Lovecraftian, atmospheric and performance-driven showcase that’s fascinating to see unfold.
About halfway through the second spin of the merry-go-round camera that opens Waves, you start to get dizzy enough to look away. Some classic Tame Impala reverb bounces through the background, the blues and whites of the Florida sky glow unnaturally bright, and Euphoria sweetheart Alexa Demie hangs out her boyfriend’s car window, flashing a smile. It’s a 2019 film about teenagers, baby—if you didn’t know, now you know.
Waves writer-director Trey Edward Shultz isn’t afraid to dive headfirst into this bold style, accusations of parody and sameness be damned, and his commitment pays off. With Euphoria and Thunder Road cinematographer Drew Daniels by his side, Shultz delivers over two hours of consistently stunning visual narrative, each sequence challenging and creative, yet perfectly balanced and self-assured. These visuals mesh seamlessly with an electric score by Nine Inch Nails duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, as well as an overloaded soundtrack of thumping Kanye and Frank Ocean tracks. It all leads you to believe Waves could be a great movie.
The hottest name in horror right now is Ari Aster. He’s got it all: family trauma, gore, cults, piano wire, and, now, flower crowns. When Hereditary hit theatres last summer, Aster was lauded as one of the best up-and-coming horror filmmakers with his story about trauma, grief, and covens. Well he’s back at it again with trauma and grief, but this time he’s tackling those themes within a Swedish pagan commune. His newest film, Midsommar, pulls even more aggressive emotional punches and splatters the screens with shocking moments of gore.
Midsommar addresses similar themes of grief, trauma, isolation, and relationships seen in Hereditary, but this time it is through the lens of young couple Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor). Dani and Christian have been together for four years but those four years haven’t necessarily been happy. Each of their conversations is so full of passive aggressive comments and halfhearted apologies that you’re just ready for someone to snap. But then, Dani suffers a horrific family tragedy. She loses her entire family and, understandably, sinks into a deep depression. Christian feels obligated to stay with Dani, even if he has the emotional intelligence of a potato sack and has no clue how to comfort his grieving girlfriend.
Grief, guilt, and mental illness are not unusual themes in horror film. We’ve seen them in The Babadook, The Witch, It Follows, the list goes on. But Ari Aster’s debut feature film, Hereditary, takes the struggles of grief to another horrifying level. What he creates is a tense, devastating, and at times difficult to watch, look at the trauma we suffer at the hands of our family and how that trauma lives on past death.
Hereditary opens on the grieving Graham family. Annie, played by the phenomenal Toni Collette, has lost her mother and is trying to work her way through this loss with support groups and working on her artistic miniatures. Meanwhile, her husband, Steve (Gabriel Byrne) tries to maintain some semblance of normalcy with their son, Peter (Alex Wolff), and young daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro). But slowly everything begins to fall apart into a very dark place. Telling you any more about the plot would ruin the film and this is best viewed without any idea of what to expect.
Five years ago today, a young little production company called A24 released Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers onto American audiences. It was the height of spring break season in the States, but as a broke and bookish high school junior, my only escapist thrills came from heading to my town’s multiplex with a friend, buying two tickets to whatever PG-13 schlock was playing, and sneaking into the sex-and-drug-filled art movie with James Franco doing a Riff Raff impression and Selena Gomez in a pink bikini.
Critically, Spring Breakers did okay — five-star ratings from the New York Times and The Village Voice were tempered by absolute pans by The Washington Post and Time. Claudia Puig of USA Today called it “mind-numbingly dull and off-putting,” and general audiences, who came in expecting “Girls Gone Wild” with their Disney favorites, reacted similarly. Moralizing moms and bummed bros aside, the central argument amounted to, “Is this trashy genius or self-absorbed nonsense?”