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Robert Eggers is two films into his feature-directing career, and people are already trying to rip off his style.

Gretel and Hansel shoots for the slow-burn, deliberately paced, lushly photographed style that Eggers employed in his 2015 masterpiece The Witch. While director Osgood Perkins has put together a movie that looks OK, the script by Rob Hayes provides little to nothing in the way of chills—the movie is all atmospherics with little substance.

On the verge of starvation centuries ago, Gretel (Sophia Lillis) is kicked out of her home with little brother Hansel (Sammy Leakey) in tow. They head into the forest where the only meal they have is hallucinogenic mushrooms—yes, they trip out—until they come upon a house inhabited by a strange old lady named Holda (Alice Krige).

Holda is all by herself without a supermarket in sight, yet her table is full of freshly baked and roasted goodies. Hansel and Gretel, just like in the fairy tale, settle in for some good country cooking. Little do they know that the obviously evil Holda (I mean, look at her—she’s definitely a witch) has nefarious plans for the two that involve a different kind of mealtime.

As the kids stuff their faces, Holda seems to ponder some sort of witch-training future for Gretel. Gretel has “visions” that suggest she could have witchcraft in her blood, so Holda encourages her while Hansel moves closer to the roasting oven. Will Gretel get hold of herself before Hansel achieves an uncomfortable melding with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme? Trust me: You’ll be so bored that you won’t give two shits.

You won’t be scared, either. There are a couple of foreboding shots involving a witch standing in a pinkly lit forest, and one involving entrails changing into baked goods; these show potential. Otherwise, the film is mostly two kids talking to each other about scary things, and those same two kids walking around, during which things should get scary, but don’t.

In an effort to make more money, Orion Pictures and Osgood have gone with a PG-13 cut—which makes no sense. There’s nothing about this movie that would appeal to fans 13 and under. Lillis was one of the stars of It, which was a hard R. An R rating could’ve generated some creeps and scares—whereas this movie chickens out.

Lillis is good here, even though her role is almost a complete copy of the one played by Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch. Krige has the makings of a scary witch, but she’s required to do little more than sit at a table and speak ominously.

You would think that an adaptation of a classic fairy tale about kids being roasted in an old lady’s oven and then eaten would be Fright City—but nope. This one is about as scary as a jar of pitted olives.

The film is flattering to Eggers in that it’s proof that he has already established a genre style—gothic horror filmed in greys and browns—and that people are trying to ape it like a lot of ’90s directors tried to rip off Quentin Tarantino.

On the bright side, the film is much better than the Jeremy Renner vehicle Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. That film may always stand as the worst adaptation of the story. Gretel and Hansel is just boring, not bad to the core. Still, boring is bad—and horror fans need not waste their time.

Gretel and Hansel is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Robert Eggers, the man who gave us The Witch—a film for which I’m eternally grateful—is back with The Lighthouse, a trippy, gothic sailor’s yarn about two very strange men (Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) working a difficult shift in a lighthouse in the late 19th century.

It’s close quarters for the two, with every fart being heard loud and clear, and every glitch in each other’s personalities grating on the sensibilities. As the trippy drama plays out, paranoia degrades into delusional mania, before moving into psychopathic actions (or not, depending upon whether you view the whole thing as a fucked-up dream).

Shot in black and white with a scope that reminds of old silent movies, the film starts with the two actors in a truly intense place, and they ratchet it up from there. Dafoe is incredible as the weathered sailor restricted to land duty—and possibly in the game of driving his employees crazy, one right after the other. Pattinson matches him every step of the way, with a performance that reminds of early Brando. That’s right: I just compared him to Brando.

Eggers has just two feature-film credits as a director—but he’s already proven he can direct with the best of them. Both of his films are like unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The man is a true original—and these actors take his vision to incredible heights.

I’m still not entirely sure what happened in The Lighthouse, but I know it disturbed the living piss out of me, and it contains two of the year’s best performances.

The Lighthouse is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Critics got all excited about The Witch, focusing on a New England family leaving a 17th century settlement to live in the woods on their own. We tend to perk up when movies are nearly perfect.

As for mass audiences, not only did they stay away; I saw some pissed-off, freaked-out people walking out during screenings.

Now that The Witch is out on Blu-ray and available to stream, you’ll get a new chance to be spooked by strange goats, creepy kids, way-too-religious parents and baby-mulching ghosts.

In what stands as the performance of the year thus far, Anya Taylor-Joy is terrific as Thomasin, the eldest daughter of William and Katherine (Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie). She and her four siblings—eldest son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), a pair of boy and girl twins, and a toddler boy—are making do in their new surroundings.

Not even 10 minutes into the movie, Thomasin loses the toddler during an innocent game of peek-a-boo. Thing is, the toddler was only a couple of feet from her face when he disappeared. This would be where that unrelenting terror I mentioned before kicks in.

Writer-director Robert Eggers gives a major shit about the details, making the costuming, props and surrounding landscapes look totally authentic. All of the performers do great work with accents, and the cinematography—done mostly with natural lighting—sets the mood.

There’s a witch in this movie, and she shows up early. She’s not a good witch at all. There are other witches, too. You will meet them along the way. You won’t like them.

Taylor-Joy, in her first major film role, delivers a breakthrough performance that will surely take her career to new levels. Scrimshaw has a possession scene that will go down in the books as one of the best since Linda Blair barfed pea soup in The Exorcist.

The movie is open to many different interpretations. My personal interpretation is as disturbing as movie interpretations get. This Eggers fellow definitely has a screw loose, and we horror fans are benefiting from it.

Special Features: There’s a brief making-of, and a question-and-answer panel after a screening featuring Eggers and Taylor-Joy (whose actual speaking voice is quite surprising). You also get a commentary with Eggers, who isn’t afraid to tell you about his dissatisfaction with particular shots and edits.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Remember how let down you felt when The Blair Witch Project never even showed a witch? Remember how you never really saw anything scary in the film, unless you count Heather Donahue’s snot and twigs as really scary?

The Witch, the Sundance Film Festival-award-winning directorial debut from Robert Eggers (who also wrote the script), actually has a witch in it. She makes her first appearance early on in the film, and she’s doing a bad thing—a really, horribly disturbing, oh-that’s-how-this-movie-is-really-going-to-start?! bad thing.

Set in 1630s New England, with an exceptional attention to detail, this masterpiece offers various ways to interpret its events and themes. Eggers has made a horror movie with some major meat on the bones that stands among such classics as The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby.

Oh lordy, is this film creepy. The sense of dread kicks in immediately after William (Ralph Ineson) is banished from his New England settlement for getting a little too over-the-top with his religious beliefs. He and his family—his wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie); their little baby; their oldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy); son, Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw); and creepy twins, Mercy and Jonas (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson), must head out into the forests and fields to make a life away from government and society.

The family has a lot of issues. William leans a little too hard on the Bible stuff, as does Katherine. Caleb is clearly going through puberty, and stares at sister Thomasin’s boobs in a way that surely would get him put in a time out in Sunday school. Thomasin, a budding woman, is starting to think there’s more to life than listening to her dad spout religious psychobabble and milking goats all day. As for the twins, well, they’re just a couple of scary kids who scream and dance outside while allegedly talking to the family goat, Black Phillip.

Let me just get this out of the way right now: You will hate Black Phillip. Black Phillip will give goats everywhere a bad name. The next time you see one of those goats shouting like a human being in a YouTube video, it’ll hit you in a much different way.

Thomasin engages in a simple game of peek-a-boo with the toddler, and the witchery commences. The Witch takes place decades before the Salem witch trails, and the movie seems to be asking the question, “Say … what if all of that hysteria was based in truth?”

While Eggers’ film is not in any way historical, the setting does provide a deliciously nasty premise for an outrageous horror movie. His period details, including the excellent costuming and structures, suggest what the times might’ve been like. When you throw in witches drinking blood and shoving apples down kids’ throats, you get a scary vibe that is all too real.

There are many ways to interpret The Witch. Some will see it as a straightforward witch tail. Others might see it as an allegorical tale of religious zealotry and radicalization. And still others might chime in and say it’s about going through puberty with super-uptight parents.

All of the interpretations work—and that’s what makes the movie so much fun for those of us who like to spend days playing guessing games about movies we’ve seen. I’m still thinking about the significance of certain moments, who was actually doing all of the dirty deeds, etc. I’m also remembering how unsettling Mark Korven’s score is, and thinking Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography should get some Oscar consideration.

I’m definitely hung up on Black Phillip, that damned staring rabbit, and those twins screeching and dancing in the barnyard. Eggers knows what is freaky—and The Witch pulls no punches. It will leave you frightened by apples, rabbits, twins, goats, muskets, pilgrim hats, babies, milk and—oh yeah, witches.

The Witch is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews