Tom Jolliffe takes a look ahead to The Nightingale, Midsommar and The Lighthouse…
There’s been some great horror films in the last five years. Three in particular for me really harked back to a classic era sensibility, owing a lot to the best era in creepy atmospheric horror. These would evoke films (among others…) like Ingmar Bergman’s darker works to Roman Polanksi’s 60’s horrors, to films like Wicker Man, and more.
Going back farthest of the three excellent modern horror rejuvenators, we have The Babadook from Jennifer Kent. The Babadook was a creepy, haunting and affecting horror but more so a deeply involving psychological study of mother and child. It’s not just about facing the titular monster, but about addressing the impact the death of absent husband and father has on the central characters in the film. The monster who could almost be metaphorical feeds a lot of this trauma. The film really blew critics away. As will be something of a common thread here, it seems oddly that the critics appreciate certain horror films a little more than the masses, where the desire seems perhaps to be for more simplistic scenarios and focus on scares.
Kent’s next film ventures away from horror, but regardless, looks an engaging and promising work from a director of vision. The Nightingale is a revenge film set in rugged Tasmanian wilderness in 1825. Having already received great reviews and a couple of Venice Film Awards, it looks like another excellent piece of work from Kent. The violent nature of the piece and a theme of vengeful blood lust will tip this into some horror territory, as indeed will the setting. Again, a central focus on the psychological breakdown of its protagonist, likely handled with great skill by Kent will hopefully mean this is gripping. The Nightingale should be marked on the watchlist of many cinephiles. The trailer promises something enthralling.
Then we have Midsommar, Ari Aster’s follow up to Hereditary. Hereditary is certainly burned fresh in the memory still having come out last year. A very definite nod to Rosemary’s Baby (with a little finale pinch of Wicker Man too), Aster stays in horror with Midsommar, set at a Swedish Festival. There’s more nods to Wicker Man here, with very clear tips of cap to Bergman too (and other fine purveyors of Scandinavian cinema).
Hereditary set Aster a very high bar to match. The film may have drifted off toward the end for some, but the sheer impact of the ‘big’ moments stuck with me, and indeed to many audience members who tuned into the film. It may have been over-billed upon release perhaps, which has lead to a mini public rebellion of sorts. No film is without its haters, but some have a particularly vocal selection. It was a tad mis-marketed, so to an extent a mini-backlash was not surprising. Still, loaded with atmosphere and anchored by an absolutely majestic Toni Collette, Hereditary is a classical styled horror that films as if it owes much to 60’s-70’s Euro horror (North, central and East in particular).
A lot of those influences will certainly repeat in Midsommar but the tone is a little different, focusing more on communal influence, and perhaps less on demonic spiritualism. There’s clearer odes to Bergman certainly (beyond the Swedish setting too). It’s reputedly a lot less gory, so there’s a definitely lean toward the strangeness of communal cult affliction/conversion. One gets the sense there will be a growing atmosphere of weirdness and creepiness throughout and less overt jump scares possibly. This could undoubtedly alienate horrorphiles even more than Hereditary, but hopefully like Hereditary, Midsommar will offer enough complexity to not only be engaging but hold up to repeat viewings.
Midsommar and The Nightingale also both seem to aesthetically feel like they’re 40-50 years old (in the best possible way). They look fantastic, visually interesting and very old school. Which brings me onto The Lighthouse. Robert Eggers really did something evocative, old fashioned and atmospheric with The VVitch. Dealing with some very classic mythology, once again, the horror is aided by the family dynamics and very strong performances. Again, much like Babadook and Hereditary, The VVitch is incessantly atmospheric and creepy. It opts for a drawn, slow burning tension, and intensely personal focus. Like the others it was somewhat miss-sold as more overt horror and more scare-a-minute than it ended up being. There seemed to be a little backlash on this one too and much like the other two you almost seem to get a discrepancy between the critic scores and the audience scores but again it’s kind of subjective and based on the taste in horror someone takes into watching this (and indeed perhaps their expectation from the promotional materials).
The Lighthouse will mark particular interest for some given R-Batz (that’s Robert Pattinson to the layperson) is starring (alongside – and only with – Willem Dafoe). Pattinson has already recently starred in another highly rated horror tinged arthouse film with High Life, a space set film with a debt to Solaris (Tarkovsky) and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It saw Pattinson deliver yet another interesting and engaging post Twilight display of potent acting ability. The Lighthouse additionally, has had a great response in Cannes, offering possibly (thus far) the best reviews of Pattinson’s career (and he’s had a lot of critical acclaim). For some public who are predominately drawn to tentpole flicks, Pattinson’s last noticeable film saw him shimmering and sparkly as a vampire opposite Kirsten Stewart. He’s worked solidly and impressively since though with a whole host of great directors.
The Lighthouse has a simple scenario and possibly the most old fashioned sensibility of all these three upcoming films. Some reviews have drawn comparisons with Bergman again. Two people feeling slow psychological breakdown in confined space definitely evokes Persona, whilst the sea setting harks back also to The Seventh Seal. Likewise the film has an apparent languidness and focus on natural surrounding that also screams out Tarkovsky. Additionally Eggers has opted to shoot full frame in black and white, on film, with lenses from the 30’s/40’s. The result by most accounts seems to be that the film looks exquisite and the intense focus on two characters losing a grip on sanity gives the film plenty of scope for complexity. Certainly this is a film which has jumped way up my anticipated list, and there’s early talk of Oscar recognition for both leads (and hopefully it gains enough attention to get a nod).
So whilst we recover from Endgame fallout, and launch into a big summer of more sequels, reboots and remakes, lets take a moment to appreciate fresh work from three of the best horror auteurs of the last five years.
Are you looking forward to The Nightingale, Midsommar and The Lighthouse? Let us know in the comments or on twitter @flickeringmyth.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has three features due out on DVD/VOD in 2019 and a number of shorts hitting festivals. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.