It’s just the Dolby Cinema sensory overload talking (ten days later, even), but my favorite thing about The Northman is it may be the closest I ever get to Skyrim: The Motion Picture. Granted, in his painstaking simulation of a savage tenth-century Scandinavia, co-writer/director Robert Eggers has omitted dragons, magic, nonhuman races, skill leveling, heavy armor, and evil demon gods. Such is the movie biz, where compromise is inevitable and was definitely not a Viking invention.
It’s that time of year again, when studios release all their film-festival acquisitions in the final quarter of the year in hopes of gaining some awards-based prestige as aesthetic compensation for their previous nine month’s worth of amusement-park spectacles and cheap crowd-pleasing fare. Truly indie companies and corporate-equivalent farm teams alike rush to compete for the same two or three backrooms at every multiplex — those screens snuggled in the way, way back of the building with like smaller screens, 20-30 seats, and the distinct feeling that you could probably get away with murder in there and no employee would ever notice. In the summer those screens are usually reserved for Marvel movies going on their twentieth week in release.
Many markets aren’t large enough to offer that much accommodation to tinier, pluckier cinematic gems. For the past decade Indianapolis has had one (1) theater more diligently dedicated above all the rest to showcasing the rare, the quirky, and the severely underfunded. Naturally it’s on the most affluent side of town far from our little hovel, but from time to time I’m happy to put in the mileage to trek up there. Plans are afoot to literally triple Indy’s art-house options by the end of 2020, which will be awesome if they come to pass. For now, there’s just the one. Sometimes the other, larger theaters pitch in, but nowhere nearly as consistently.
Speaking of truly singular things: that brings us to The Lighthouse, the new film from writer/director Robert Eggers. His feature-film debut, 2015’s The Witch, was a lovingly crafted artisanal piece that relished its archaic speech patterns, throwback cinematography, precipitous descents into the bottomless pits of human sin, endings that give the audience nightmares for weeks, and mean-spirited animals. To that extent his sophomore exploit The Lighthouse feels familiar, a summary rejection of how today’s movies are “supposed” to be made in favor of exploring roads rarely taken anymore, using methods they probably don’t teach in film school anymore, and with the most disturbing demeanor conceivable.