Eggers. Robert Eggers has made two films: The Witch, a strong debut, in 2015 and his 2019 follow-up, The Lighthouse. He’s two for two in the archives—and both landed very close to the top 10 of their respective years (a murders’ row of films in 2019 kept The Lighthouse out) and the top 100 of their respective decade. He’s a style-plus auteur as well with a very distinct voice. His films are bathed in production design authenticity and painstaking detail. They also, absolutely, have a strong audio component as the dialogue used is utterly specific and distinct as well. Both are about isolation, folklore, and a decent into madness. This is clearly a talented auteur.
Best film: The Lighthouse
- A confirmation of Eggers’ prodigious gifts and his auteur standing after the 2015 debut- The Witch
- Hypnotically beautiful to look at (and listen to) but more than that really: distinctive, meticulous – I called The Witch curated and said that you could almost smell and feel the film—characterized it as method acting but from the director’s chair—and that praise and description certainly fits here for Eggers sophomore effort.
- Eggers has a background in production design—rum, flatulence, the cutlery, the beards—every object in the frame, the choice of aspect ratio, the colloquial Herman Melville-like specific time/place vernacular—the jargon– these are all specific choices– all wet, dirty, dire, foul and authentic
- The titular set piece (which of course they built for the film and it actually works) is symbolic of course, solitude and phallic—the spiral staircase and the light itself emblematic and striking
- 1.19 : 1 box-like aspect ratio and shot on 35mm. It’s a not to the silent film expressionism and the vice-like frame size is perfect for the confining nature of the world. Cabin fever and a descent into madness (feels like The Shining in that ways)
- At its best some of the mise-en-scene and production design reminded me of the damp specifics of Tarkovky’s cabin in The Mirror or the black and white section prior to the “The Zone” in Stalker. Bela Tarr’s The Turin Horse is another.
- It’s a major feather in the cap for Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe—both capture the look, are as dedicated to the language and setting as Eggers is—and both are given flashy monologues- magnificent.
- Like The Witch this is about a strained relationship (just two characters in this film along with some hallucinations and delusions and of course the domain Eggers creates) in isolation. Nuanced characters and complex relationship
- Specificity and New England folklore (mermaids, seagulls and dead bodies) for Eggers—production design mastery
total archiveable films: 2
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 0
top 100 films of the decade: 0
most overrated: Eggers does not have an overrated film. His two films do land on the TSPDT consensus 21st century top 1000- but both are slightly underrated.
most underrated : They’re both underrated– but not egregiously so. The Witch lands at #16 of 2015 on the TSPDT consensus list for the 21st century. Lighthouse lands at #19 for 2019– both should be at least five slots higher.
gem I want to spotlight : The Witch
- A debut brimming with self-assurance and specificity
- The specificity is two-fold– the detail in the production design (Eggers background) and the vernacular. The corn stalks are real. The dialect is clearly authentic- the “thee’s” and “thou’s”. You can almost smell and taste the film – it’s curated—it is as studied as a method actor not breaking character but in the form of an entire film.
- Ominous vocalizing in the score- like the opening of Kubrick’s 2001.
- Powerful (and horrifying) imagery in the witch montage with the hand on the child, blade on the child
- The themes are large— cursed or damned, rotten apples and pride and small lies (sins) turning into bigger lists
- Like Ari Aster’s Hereditary from 2018 and all of the best horror films of all-time (not quite putting this in that class) it absolutely works as a drama without the scares. This is a family drama and the characters are harsh—the family unraveling– ripping each other apart.
- These characters are devout—they never blink or nod to us the viewer or the world outside of the film. Constant praying from all of them.
- Honestly I wish Eggers would spend more time basking in the details of the set design
- A New England folk story
- Really good review from the WSJ- Joe Morgenstern “This phenomenal debut feature by Robert Eggers has a singular style and tone, and its horror flows from the deepest wellsprings of human nature.”
- Recommend/Highly Recommend border- right on the fringe of the top 10 of 2015 and I’ve appreciated it more every time I’ve seen it
- A former production designer— he’s a born curator. Meticulous. it can be beautiful in Eggers world, but only if it is authentic—authenticity is the priority clearly—each prop, piece of clothing, lighting looks like it was transplanted from the period he’s adapting
- I mention some other auteurs here from Aster to Tarr and Tarkovsky – but I do not see a ton of cinematic influences on Eggers—speaks to his singular style
- natural lighting– certainly a trait of Eggers
- Both films set in New England to date
- Both films about a strained relationship in isolation. Nuanced characters and complex relationships
- Colloquial, region/time and jargon specific authentic dialogue—get those subtitles ready!
- The Lighthouse
- The Witch
By year and grades
|2015- The Witch||R/HR|
|2019- The Lighthouse||HR|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives