Frank Ritz’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Shining works because of it's atmosphere, and location. Not because they're both distinct, but both characters. The score, and camera movement, function as the ghosts haunting the Overlook, which is a living and breathing character, who's more important than any of the humans. It applies a start and stop function too, when it comes to actual insanity building/scary things happening, yet it always feels completely unhinged (and is really ratcheted up for the third act). There's also a plethora of subtext to dive into, and not even the Room 237 crackpot shit (though some of that is good), but just interpretations and metaphors that were resonant throughout Kubrick's career, or, lifting/reinterpreting from the novel (which is excellent too). It's a horror movie through and through.
Possession works because it's balls-to-the-wall batshit crazy for the entirety of it's run-time. There's nothing else like it. Every shot, every acting choice, every literal thing happening in the plot, all the rampantly running metaphors both subtle and loud; it's a film that operates in it's own deranged world, and nothing is like it before or after. It leaves me in pure awe at the audacity of it's own existence, and it is always riding the wave at an 11; it's pure chaotic cinema.
Inland Empire works because it's abstract horror for it's whole three hours. There's some semblance of reality in the beginning, but it's pretty quickly whisked away, as the psyche of an actress completely erodes in front of our eyes in such a visceral, and distinct, way, whilst always being unique and, again (and most importantly), abstract. There's pure distillation of images and their invoked emotions. It's not about what's happening, but how it makes you feel, and years later, I still very much remember how that movie makes me feel.
Climax works because it's a film split into two halves. The first half is all build; the world, the characters, their dynamics, their dancing, and the fluidity of the camera when grounded to sobriety. The second half is chaos unleashed, when shit hits the fan it then proceeds to never let go. It also finds a way to somehow mount the craziness inside it's never-ending onslaught.
All of these things have absolutely nothing, and everything, to do with The Lighthouse.
I actually (pretty firmly) stand in the camp that saying you've seen something done before, therefore the quality of the thing in front of you is reduced, is absurd. Because then no movie would be good, and that's just not how I feel! I bring up all these movies because I'm trying to really sit and ponder why this film didn't work for me. Also not trying to do that in the Ad Astra sense, which was me just being baffled by the audience/critical response; this is me being baffled by the product in front of me. All the above movies are my favorites when it comes to this type of story - reality breaking, while protagonist lose their sanity, have you questioning what to believe, etc. etc. etc. I suppose I could've mentioned The Duke of Burgundy at the top as well, being my preferred metaphorical (and simultaneously very straight forward) rendering of the difficulties of being in a relationship, which I like so much more because it IS about a romantic relationship, and not just coded S&M/Power dynamics (which is why I'm not crazy about Phantom Thread, The Favourite, or this). So what's my conclusion? Even though it's the thing I need to work on the most, I'm a writer at heart.
This thing, from a technical aspect, cannot be denied. The cinematography is always striking, from it's distinct location, to it's authentically crafted mise-en-scène, to the boxy aspect ratio confining into a delectable frame that is always pulsing with the feeling of being alive. Everything is very methodically constructed, which definitely inspires awe, but I also have to be honest, that after awhile, it felt more like a thin-facade, being that, it didn't feel like the distinct visualization was supporting anything. A beautiful picture is a beautiful picture, but if I don't have anything to emotionally connect with, then, it's somewhat empty. I remember in the first five minutes thinking, "this is some iconic shit" and immediately curbing that thought with the notion of, "well... it has to earn that", and I truthfully don't believe it does. Even the soundscape, while mightily impressive, didn't feel consistent throughout, and elements would just kind of fizzle out (a repeated problem I'll address later).
Performance wise, this thing also has me somewhat toiled, being that Willem is excellent, but my boy Robby Patts leaves more to be desired. This is clearly the role Willem was born to play; not only is his look just out-of-this-world, but his ability to be simultaneously terrifying, charismatic, disarming, and on edge, is something most people can't juggle. His commitment to giving 100% is always commendable, and here it works in spades. The farting (a strangely talked about point with this film) actually was underutilized and yet just another element that frustrated me (apologies for this random tangent).
The farting was an element established almost immediately, but then, it just disappeared as the movie went. If there's such an emphasis on this character element, that also highlights the maddening of coexistence, and even the tangible smellyness that would suck (and potentially drive one crazy), then keep it up. Same goes for the nightly toast; they did it twice (maybe three times?) and then let it go. These are things that would genuinely bring about the repetitious madness slowly bubbling, instead of trite randomness/shocks (Mermaid Vagina isn't cool/clever/original - it's silly/obvious/easy). I want to feel as tired as them - I want to be brought to my own edge of bareability. Sure that may isolate large audiences but, at least it's thematically sound! These are the two main examples that come to mind, but I distinctly remember thinking it about other elements...
But back to Robby Patts; his commitment rivals Willem's, unquestionably, and he definitely gives it his all, but I didn't see him fall into the role like many of his recent masterstrokes (Good Time, The Rover, Cosmopolis), and I'm not sure what it is.. maybe the voice was a little shaky? Maybe because it was a two note character (quietly uninterested, or completely deranged)? Maybe because it psychically demanded so much, the emotions didn't ring true? I'm not sure. They have chemistry, but it felt so artificial.
Which brings me to the heart of the issue. This thing just feels too much like a movie. Sure, it works, often, but when you're also scribbed so hard to trying to etch through reality... I mean, I expect a more realistic movie. Now I'm not saying rid it of supernatural/deranged elements; I'd call The Shining fairly realistic, and The Witch 100% is (I prefer that film far more). There's just no story that I find myself taking to. Listening to Eggers talk in interviews only made it worse because he confirmed my issue (this is paraphrasing); "I had the look, the location, and the mood I wanted, then the story came". That's a big no no to me. I think film as a whole is really trying to push it's echelon in ways of visualization, because technology is rapidly evolving, and skills are being developed alongside it; a standard is being created. But, that doesn't excite me. Some YouTube videos look better than modern films; what does excite me is unique/creative content, and I just didn't find anything (beyond the aforementioned mood, location, actors) to have anything to grasp onto. The story hits these familiar beats that feel too manufactured and completely unearned. There's no good progression, there's too much easy symbolism (the human vagina in the lighthouse light at the beginning was my first warning sign this wasn't going to go well for me), the dialogue lost it's charm very quick, and all the previously mentioned irks, had me sitting there frustrated. Frustrated because literally none of it is bad, but all of it is fine. I think if this had a different writer(s), or a many more drafts, something worth-while (obviously all in my eyes) would have come to life, but instead, I'm looking at a really pretty piece of wood; efficient, but still, a piece of wood (my strangest metaphor to date?)
I'm a real fuckin' curmudgeon, aren't I? I do want to see this again. I debated giving it a 3 star rating because, well, nothing IS bad, and I'm still thinking about it (mostly how frustrating it was), and I have quoted it more than a few times... So I'll leave the grade where I think it belongs for now, but am aware, that a re-watch could drastically improve my opinion, or bury this in the ground. Will always be happy studios still can take chances like this, but I want more in the writing department; I'm over the visual Auteurs - Where's my new Kaufman?