Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 02, 2020 4:26 pm 
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Howling into the light

Better than I'd imagined all this time, because in the flesh both actors are rich salty dogs, but above all due to the beauty of the images - even when you can barely see them - and the sound design, so full of distinctive stormy crashes and roars. "Cabin Fever" is the kind of madness in this "psychological horror" film of two men who can't stick out a month confined to the eponymous building (and tiny rock island) together. The grainy dark black and white is stuffed and spread over a boxy 1.19:1 ratio image, shot using lenses from the early twentieth century on rarely used Kodak Double-X 35mm film for a texture and detail as gorgeously ugly as a painting by Ivan Le Lorraine Albright (with exteriors by Albert Pinkham Ryder). The dialogue is specially textured too, with stilted voices speaking in heavy dialect and period sailor lingo.

Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) is the assistant to old lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake. This is, like Losey's The Servant, a Beckettian dominance-submission situation where the roles twist and pull and switch. "What's a timber man want with being a wickie?" Tom asks Winslow, after he's consented to stop calling him merely "lad" or "laddie" and Winslow has consented to sip of the rum Tom is tippling at every meal.

It feels like nothing is happening, and being stifled is the essence of the pressure that builds the action - through non-action: till all hell breaks loose in a well amped up last act and the two men drift into their personal apocalypse, sputter and explode, then crawl through the muck, like Lars von Trier's 2009 Antichrist (which also included Dafoe). Maybe it's all just the homely nightmare of the family conflict at the dinner table, dramatized. But all along lots of stuff is happening, as Anthony Lane hints at the start of his New Yorker review to distinguish this lighthouse from the one in Virginia Woolf's novel: somebody "gets to make out with a mermaid" and also "a mattress." "Woolf’s characters" don't "strip bare and stand next to the lamp in the lighthouse, arms spread wide, bathing in the rays as if worshipping a luminescent god." Nor do they do battle with vicious seagulls that Tom says embody the souls of dead seamen. This movie is "crammed with such oddities, and more." The interior of the cabin where the two men meet is a growing landscape of destruction, a devolution that works so well because it leaves so little space.

True, as Lane notes the stakes aren't as high and the scare's not as deep as in Eggers' powerful debut, The Witch, which is set several hundred years earlier, not too far from this Maine island setting, but back then, with a whole society impinging to destroy individuals. Instead these guys are imploding from within. They're doing it to themselves and may have a choice. Still as Richard Newby said in a Hollywood Reporter analysis, The Witch and The Lighthouse do after all make companion pieces: both "turn traditional notions of damnation and forgiveness on their heads," and each story is "hiding a strange and supernatural light within its center." But I will grant with Mike D'Angelo at Toronto this lacks quite the "sheer nightmarish conviction" of Eggers' debut. Still, a rough watch that's also often much fun, two actors delivering performances we can relish as they doubtless relished delivering them. (This is even classier horror than Ari Aster's warm weather release, Midsommer. The scary movie bar was set high last year.)

The Lighthouse, 109 mins., debuted at Cannes, followed by 33 very international festivals. Opened in the US limited 18 Oct., wider 1 Nov; in France 18 Dec. 2019 (AlloCiné press rating 3.7 (74%). Metascore 84%.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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