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Crowned in cockle shells

January 24 through 26, Union South Marquee, multiple showtimes, free. Info

A24 had a banner year in 2019 with releases that included Midsommar, Uncut Gems, and Waves. Cinephiles have come to expect nothing less than stellar releases from this company and rightfully so: In a year full of risk-taking films, A24 consistently took risks that paid off. Robert Eggers’ black-and-white Promethean horror, The Lighthouse, was especially a breath of fresh air (and/or pungent slime) in 2019’s crowded cinematic landscape.

Easily the most highly anticipated film of last year, The Lighthouse was shot in 35 mm with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, making it claustrophobic and quite personal. As the titular lighthouse’s two keepers (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson) are on screen for the bulk of the film, the square-ish field of view gives the viewer even more of a sensation of being castaway on a rock with the two grizzly seamen. Thomas Wake (Dafoe) has been tasked with operating “the light” for years and has seen many sailors come and go. Some of them have gone mad after a series of bad omens. His younger subordinate, Winslow (Pattinson), tries his best to stay sane and sober, adjusting to the cramped quarters and grueling routine of dirty, backbreaking tasks. But the two men’s booze-addled visions, in addition to Wake’s refusal to let Winslow access the top of the lighthouse, are a recipe for insanity.

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While A24 campaigned for Pattinson to get an Oscar nomination for this film, surely Dafoe deserved one just as much, portraying Wake as a wild-eyed Poseidon-like figure and delivering one of the best soliloquies ever seen on film. (The Academy opted for neither, nominating the film only for Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography.) Eggers definitely flexed his skills with 2015’s The VVitch (2015), but in The Lighthouse he really was able to allow two brilliant actors the space to craft superb performances. It is a slow burn that builds up to the point of explosion and stays with you for days afterwards. —Edwanike Harbour

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