Each year, there are movies that I feel were overlooked by major awards bodies. In this 5-part Oscars column called “The Case For…”, I will discuss and make a case for a few of the movies released in 2019 that I think deserve attention as Oscar voting is just about to get under way.
THE CASE FOR… THE LIGHTHOUSE
Directing a horror film is one of the toughest challenges for any filmmaker. A horror movie needs to elicit fear and anguish without falling in the trap of ridicule and involuntary comedy, something that only a director at the top of their craft and with a perfect knowledge of the genre can handle. It also takes a studio brave enough to give them the greenlight.
Robert Eggers rose to fame in 2015 with his debut feature, A24’s The VVitch, the New England story about a young woman accused of witchcraft. The film achieved such prominence that even the Church of Satan elected it as a quintessential film in its library. Critics praised it for its acting, screenplay, direction, and for the precise recreation of an age that is still obscure and mysterious for many people. It comes to no surprise that when Eggers announced his second project, and partnering up once again with A24, an Edgar Allan Poe-inspired New England tale about two men losing their minds after being stranded on a lighthouse island, the anticipation skyrocketed. What emerged was the atmospheric, claustrophobic, acting masterclass The Lighthouse.
Led by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, two commanding stars at the top of their game, The Lighthouse could be praised for many of its aspects, with screenplay, acting and cinematography chiefs among them. And yet, it’s the direction that makes the movie better than the remarkable sum of its parts. Robert Eggers, with the dexterity of a seasoned veteran, chooses to explore methodically and meticulously the inside of two unraveling minds burdened by their past, by their own fears. Who is Ephraim Winslow, the silent keeper? Who is Thomas Wake, his exploitative, domineering old companion? What is happening to them? We, as viewers, are invited to investigate the increasing hostility between the two wickies, well aware that dark, unseen forces are in action behind the bloody, violent scenes that take the center of the stage. The whole film is characterized by a pervasive sense of dread, of terror, of suspicion and superstition: the disturbing sound of the ocean wind, the crashing of the sea waves, terrifying mermaids, one-eyed seagulls, people rising from the dead are some of the elements that form the film’s own mythology, turning it into the perfect screen portrayal of a delirium, Lynchian in a very un-Lynchian way.
In a movie so worthy of praise, what really stands out is that it’s a 2019 film that feels like a realistic yet prismatic 1930s-style picture about late 19th century New England. The peculiar aspect ratio, the incredible gothic atmosphere make it a journey back in time(s) so flawlessly executed, so impeccably made that it’s hard not to recognize the talent of everyone involved: the actors, who stage a generational duel as exciting as a milestone like Sleuth; the screenwriters (Robert and Max Eggers), the cinematographer (Jarin Blaschke), the music composer (Mark Corven), and above all else Robert Eggers, the man who directed what is one of the best films of the year.
The Lighthouse should be nominated for:
Best Director – Robert Eggers
Best Supporting Actor – Willem Dafoe
Best Original Screenplay – Robert Eggers, Max Eggers
Best Cinematography – Jarin Blaschke