Trey Edward Shults’s previous film, It Comes at Night was one that I liked on first viewing but was lacking in retrospect, especially with the weak story and dull characters that did not make up for the lack of strong horror/thriller elements. It felt like an ambitious concept that did not come together well and was both underwritten and stale, just being a series of ambiguous story elements mixed in with an overly grim tone. I’m saying this because I’m utterly shocked by how much more impressed I am by his latest.
Waves is difficult to describe without spoiling the directions it goes in, so let’s just call it a family relationship drama that focuses on a son who is having personal difficulties. Thematically, it is more about love and connection vs hate and distance as well as the relationships young adults share with their parents/each other. The narrative that brings out these themes is incredibly well structured, as each act is well spaced out and every plot element naturally intertwines with each other. It is a well told story that is intensely tragic yet ultimately heartfelt and satisfying.
What is impressive about Waves is just how engaging the style is. It’s unconventional, lacking dialogue and being more reliant on the camerawork, soundtrack and editing to carry the narrative. Yet it works because of just how energetic and unique it is. One could compare Shults’s montage heavy editing and flowing camerawork to Terrence Malick (Shults worked on Malick’s recent films so this would make sense), but rather than being outwardly dreamlike and classical, it feels realistic and modern, with the use of social media and contemporary rap music contributing to this. The cinematography is visually pleasing, if a little repetitive, and the editing is strong. Despite the 135-minute running time, it barely drags.
The acting is also great, with Kelvin Harrison Jr as son Tyler and Sterling K Brown as father Ronald being the standouts. Harrison is passionate whilst Brown is more understated, but both light up the screen. Taylor Russell as Emily and Lucas Hedges as her boyfriend Luke are also great and they provide a lot of warmth. An MVP would also be Alexa Demie as Tyler’s girlfriend Alexis, who despite getting technically one of the least substantial (but still important) parts really does impress. What helps is that all of them have well written characters to work with, as almost every character in Waves goes through some form of change. Everyone is written with a realistic stroke and there are no dull caricatures present.
Overall, Waves really impressed me. If you’ve never seen anything by Shults then maybe you shouldn’t start here, but otherwise give it a shot. Even if you disliked his previous films, I’d still recommend it.
What happens when you put the eccentric and legendary Willem Dafoe and Twilight-star turned character actor Robert Pattinson together in black and white, a 4:3 aspect ratio, a lighthouse setting and a bonkers story written and directed by Robert Eggers of The Witch? You get one of the most gloriously entertaining movies of the year.
The main attraction is seeing the dynamic between Dafoe and Pattinson, who both are at the top of their game. Whilst Dafoe starts out as being typically over the top and Pattinson typically understated, these two performance styles eventually reverse. Dafoe eventually shows a lot of restraint, whilst Pattinson goes into full scenery chewing mode. They have great chemistry together and the relationship that these characters share often changes but always remains interesting. Out of the two, Pattinson impressed me the most, with a performance that will hopefully make anyone who still doubts him eat their crow.
The story of The Lighthouse is also very compelling, because all throughout, just what is going on is never truly clear. There’s a decent amount of ambiguity and as a result a lot that one could interpret from the story. Whilst the film does take a while to get going, once it does it becomes truly crazy yet still manages to be understandable and coherent, a tough yet well executed balancing act. By the end, you are left wondering what it all meant, but still satisfied by the note that it ended on.
Robert Eggers has grown as a director since his first feature. The Witch was effective, but it did sometimes rely too heavily on dialogue over visual storytelling. Here, he has a far stronger balance between both. There is a lot of dialogue, but there are also quite a few long stretches without it, with the first 7 minutes having none. The dialogue, similarly to The Witch, is old-fashioned, but much more understandable than that film’s 1600’s dialect. The cinematography is beautifully moody and the music/sound design sells the atmosphere of dread and insanity, especially in the blaring sound of the lighthouse itself that eventually gets on the nerves in a good way.
Above all, what works best is the tone. In the wrong hands, this film could have been an unintentional comedy. But Eggers manages to give the entire film a feeling of intentional absurdity. Some of the things that happen are so bizarre that you end up laughing and a lot of the lines are either intentionally comedic or just so over the top. The Lighthouse is not a comedy nor a horror (it’s a darkly comedic psychological thriller), but it feels like it could be at home with any of Sam Raimi’s or Peter Jackson’s early work.
The Lighthouse is one of 2019’s most enjoyably off the wall experiences as well as one of it’s most well-acted and crafted. Eggers has cemented himself as one to watch out for.