Rich reviews ‘The Lighthouse’ and ‘Countdown’

“The Lighthouse” is billed as a drama, but boy is it ever a creepy one.

It's New England in the 1890's and on a remote and mysterious island, two "wikis"(lighthouse keepers) struggle to get along with each other and keep their sanity while marooned during freak storm.

But that’s not the only thing that freaky about this film by the man who brought you “The VVitch” in 2015, writer/director Robert Eggers (this time written with brother Max). Firstly, "The Lighthouse" is shot in glorious black and white, and presented in a claustrophobic (and somewhat vertical-looking, I thought) 1.19:1 aspect ratio. But that's just the beginning of the attention paid to every detail of this descent-into-madness period piece.

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson (who’s going to make for one unconventional Batman when 20201 rolls around) give standout performances which may be rewarded with at least a nomination each when the time comes. To add to the enclosed feeling supplied by the aspect ratio, Dafoe and Pattinson are virtually the only people in this film, apart from scattered shots of the stray mermaid.

But as much as I want to gush about this film, from everything to the aforementioned acting and directorial choices, to the sound effects, the foley artists, the cinematography and lighting, to the music (sounding just enough like whale song one minute, boat horns the next, howling wind later and wailing people finally)… as much as “The Lighthouse” gets cinematically right, there’s at least one thing that it gets wrong: it certainly isn’t accessible.

It’s purposefully nebulous, making liberal use of symbolism, Greek allegories, seafaring superstitions… and all with little or no explanation topped off with an unreliable narrator... or is he? It’s debatable what actually occurs in the narrative of the film, and what is only happening in the minds of our two beleaguered wikis. I’m still mulling over the ending.

But as inaccessible as “The Lighthouse” may be to the general public who might like their cinematic fare served up more , I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The Lighthouse” is rated R for sexual content, nudity, violence, disturbing images, and some language, with a run time of 1 hour and 49 minutes.

Meanwhile, “Countdown” is actually what you think it is from the trailer, only a little better than the pack. A nurse downloads the Countdown app that all the kids are talking about these days; an app that tells you how much time you have left before you die. A funny aside to bring up about at parties (“I have 63 years left!”), it tells our heroine that she and her sister only have about three days to live. But who cares; it’s just a silly cellular parlor trick, right?

Except enough people her hospital start to die “on time” for her to worry. And we’re off an running the latest teen-terror romp that should be familiar to most audiences these days. And although derivative, similar fare could still learn a thing or two from “Countdown.”

Although it has a hint of "Final Destination with a Phone," it also features a smart, "last-girl-standing" lead (Elizabeth Lail from “Once Upon A Time”) who is someone you actually like. Her supporting cast is entertaining, specifically P.J. Byrne as “Father John” a geek with a zest for the occult, and Tom Segura as “Derek,” a cell-store manager who can hack anything. The script contains a surprising amount of humor, and a decent explanation for why all of this crazy stuff is even happening. Throw in a believable bad guy (“Twilight’s Peter Facinelli) to add some real-world grist to an otherwise supernatural mill, and you’ve got yourself a popcorn stew fit for a group of people going to the theater looking for a scary good time.

Now of course it also has a heaping-helping of the usual pitfalls of the genre: cheap jump scares galore... "stupid people doing stupid things," and a built-in setup for the sequel. But the former list outweighs the latter and elevates "Countdown" just above the usual "rent-em-and-forget-em" horror fare out there.

“Countdown” is rated PG-13 for terror, violence, bloody images, suggestive material, language and thematic elements, and has a runtime of 90 minutes.

Valerie Cameron from B98.7 and I will talk much more these and other movies this week, and other films ad-nauseum weekly on “Striking - Thee Movie Podcast!” heck it out, it's... striking!

Next week the movie season picks up with the release of "Harriet," the biographical drama about Harriet Tubman; "Motherless Brooklyn" form actor/writer/director Edward Norton; and T6, "Terminator: Dark Fate" featuring the return of Linda Hamilton to the franchise.

See you next week!

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