Fantastic Fest Day 5

(Welcome to The Fantastic Fest Diaries, where we will be chronicling every single movie we see at the United States’ largest genre film festival.)

Welcome to Fantastic Fest 2019, day five. In this entry, In the Shadow of the Moon is a slick sci-fi serial killer thriller and The Lighthouse is a gonzo, genre-bending masterpiece.

in the shadow of the moon review

In the Shadow of the Moon

In the Shadow of the Moon is a serial killer thriller unlike any serial killer thriller you’ll see this year, following one obsessed cop as he tracks down a murderer who strikes every nine years. Beginning in 1988 and concluding decades later, Jim Mickle‘s movie leans heavily on a clever structure, one that offers its physical climax early and its emotional climax late – a choice that feels right even if it means the gas tank starts to sputter a bit in the final half hour. But that’s okay, because this blend of police procedural and science fiction adventure is fresh and intriguing enough to win your goodwill early on and spend the rest of its running time subverting your expectations in the right ways.

The script here is clever enough to make you wish it didn’t star Boyd Holbrook, one of the more newly-minted members of the “Sam Worthington Club of Boring White Guys, Also Featuring Jai Courtney.” It’s not that Holbrook is bad here – it’s just that he’s surrounded by more interesting screen presences and you can’t help but imagine the alternate version that stars a more compelling leading man. If In the Shadow of the Moon is Terminator meets Zodiac (because yes, that’s exactly what it is), you will find yourself begging for a Michael Biehn or a Jake Gyllenhaal to show up and rescue the movie.

If it sounds like I’m sidestepping details here, that’s because I am. Going into this one knowing as little as possible is probably for the best, as the pulpy mystery unfolds in a satisfying manner that deserves to sideswipe you (it’s also somewhat timely with its messaging, in a way that will get your Fox News-watching uncle ticked off). Without telling you exactly what kind of movie this is, let’s just say that it directly confronts one of the genre’s most amusing “what if?” scenarios and embroils it in an “obsessive cop pushes a case too far” movie. Perhaps this is the perfect Netflix movie: fun and just smart enough and clever enough to recommend it to your work friends the next day. It’s not a total gem, but it’s certainly something precious enough to seek out.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10

the lighthouse trailer

The Lighthouse

It’s nearly impossible to describe Robert EggersThe Lighthouse, the kind of movie that doesn’t so much defy genre classification as much as it gleefully dynamites it. It’s the kind of film that stubbornly refuses to color inside the lines, making that statement clear from frame one by being filmed in a boxy aspect ratio and on black and white film, looking like a lost relic from an alternate dimension where German Expressionism set the dominant tone for the rest of cinematic history. It also features sea monsters and men going insane and sequences of such intense unpleasantness that you’ll squirm ’til your guts hurt.

Oh, and it’s also one of the funniest films of the year, a laugh riot that dares you to cackle because it hides its comedy behind such a straight face. Ultimately, Eggers is employing so much style and so much dizzying weirdness to tell a story about what it’s like to share a confined space with the roommate from hell.

There are only two characters in The Lighthouse: a veteran lighthouse keeper (Willem Dafoe, trotting out an outstanding and hilarious pirate voice) and his new right-hand man (Robert Pattinson, still willing to let his internal ugliness clash brilliantly with his good looks). The two of them arrive for a month-long post on an isolated island. The grizzled older man tends to the light. The young newcomer does just about everything else. There is tension from moment one, as Pattinson’s mysterious drifter refuses to drink with his companion and scoffs at any mention of superstition. And can you blame him? He’s working for the kind of unpleasant weirdo who rambles about sea monsters, calls upon the gods of the ocean to curse others, and can’t keep his myriad of stories about his adventurous past straight. Eventually, the alcohol flows. Old-timey warnings are ignored. No love is lost and farts rip through the confined space until these two men have every reason to never see each other again.

And then things get really bad.

The Lighthouse couldn’t be more different from Eggers’ sublime The Witch, but it echoes many of that film’s interests and concerns. This is a tale of madness revolving around superstition and pent-up emotions and men fighting to maintain a status quo that makes them feel powerful and necessary rather than back down for the sake of common decency. But while The Witch was a damning portrait of Puritan belief as it is tested by its ultimate foe, The Lighthouse is a movie about the dangers of placing two hot-headed men who refuse to bend in the same room with one another for far too long and watching them stand rigidly until they explode rather than adapt. Through it all, both Dafoe and Pattinson speak with dialogue drawn from actual historical sources, sometimes vanishing into language so archaic that you have to listen to the context, to the space between the words, to fully understand what is being said. Like his previous work, Eggers is nothing if not a stickler for historical detail, valuing accuracy to set the stage before ripping reality out of the equation altogether.

The intensity, the sense of isolation, the uncanny visuals, and overwhelming sense of madness recall Stanley Kubrick, as Eggers invites you to witness two men go mad and destroy one another. But so much of it also recalls the early work of Adam McKay, whose best comedies focus on the fallibility of machismo and how men who think with their penises first tend to self-destruct the loudest and the most spectacularly. Yes, this is the funniest movie you’ll ever see about two men who go insane in a possibly cursed lighthouse, the creepiest sea monster movie that also features more flatulence jokes than you’d expect, and a hypnotic experiment that feels equally at home as coarse comedy as it does a surreal tribute to the cinema of the ’30s and an age where films didn’t have a century of rules audiences expect them to follow.

There are going to be many audiences baffled by The Lighthouse. I wonder if many people will realize they’re allowed to laugh and that Eggers’ intentionally old-fashioned visuals are about transportation and immersion, not about self-importance. The one thing I do know is that this is the kind of singular film that recharges my batteries and makes me realize why I like movies in the first place.

/Film Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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About the Author

Jacob Hall is the managing editor of /Film, with previous bylines all over the Internet. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, his pets, and his board game collection.