Saturday, November 16, 2019

"Psycho" Revisited

Abnormal even among the more challenging horror films of today, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” abandons its central character arc for a much more unexpected second just as the plot begins to wade deeper waters. There is an observation made in the preceding scenes that suggest that possibility – namely, a moment when Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) realizes almost prematurely that she must return home and give up the money she stole from her employer – but our wildest notions of the conflict could scarcely predict the outcome of her abrupt escape down a rainy highway. Most of the familiar rules in horror were far from being accepted as part of the formula handbook, but a constant among the early prototypes was the use of one primary character as a source of study. Yet here she was, a mere 48 minutes into a film, showering at a rundown motel owned by an eccentric loner, and being snuck up on by a shadowy figure destined to stab her to death. If the shock of the incident remains startling for its perfect technical modulation – meticulous edits, a piercing soundtrack, out-of-focus details that obscured the numerous wounds – then its broader effect came entirely down to audacity. No other mainstream film up to that point committed itself to such nerve to shatter the comfortable borders of a story, and to this day it remains peerless among a growing arsenal of broadening genre standards.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Lighthouse / ***1/2 (2019)

On the edge of a rock hugging the violent sea, a weathered lighthouse affirms the mission of two men stalled on a mental tightrope. They plod day and night through a routine that always leads to one outcome: ensuring the illuminating glow of the tower never dims, even as the most turbulent storms loom relentlessly overhead. But a day comes when the winds shift, casting doubt on their own perseverance; a nor’easter draws down like a force of punishment, until their demeanors – one sardonic, the other silent and morose – collide on each other with disturbing gravitas. On the other side of the struggle is only more of the same: a cycle without relief or certainty, unless the primary conviction is to stilt the moods of those eager viewers watching below the projector’s light. Their feelings, I reckon, might parallel what some of the early audiences thought upon first seeing “The Shining,” also about people who were driven mad by isolation. Did the slow plod through a tonal labyrinth, too, undermine their defenses enough to amplify the horror of the climax? Were they submissive to the visual attack, and did it negate any questions of logic they might have had? Robert Egger’s eerie, hypnotic new film mirrors many of those possibilities and finds something rather interesting buried beneath: an imagination that escalates its visions into the fantastical and absurd.