Robert Eggers is one of the hottest directors working right now. He burst into the scene with The Witch (2015) and further embraced his eccentric vision with The Lighthouse (2019). His third directorial effort came out earlier this year with the viking revenge opera, The Northman (2022).
All three of this movies are fantastic to watch. The Witch is an eerie thriller that makes the minimalistic atmosphere of a colonial home feel like the stretching medieval torture device. You know what I am talking about. The Lighthouse messes with your head, tossing your thoughts around like you are a ping pong ball in an epic Olympic volley.
Eggers’ first two movies have a combined budget of 15 millions dollars. The Northman‘s budget was 60 million dollars. Eggers didn’t lose his sense of self with the money. Instead he just added explanation points to his already fantastic visual and directorial skills.
But Eggers didn’t start his movie making with great actors like Anya-Taylor Joy, Robert Pattinson or Nicole Kidman. Prior to 2015, Eggers was working his way through various jobs, including costume design, art director and production designer. While becoming well rounded, Eggers had the determination to write and direct his own work.
Before The Witch, Eggers made three short films: Hansel & Gretel (2007), The Tell-Tale Heart (2008) and Brothers (2015). And the most beautiful thing is that these short stories are all available on YouTube.
HANSEL & GRETEL (2007)
Eggers loves his folklore and naturalistic horror. The environment is its own character in his stories. The woods in The Witch, The Lighthouse has…the lighthouse, and The Northman is very literally animalistic in regards to its characters.
When you watch Hansel & Gretel, you can get a sense for that right from the jump. The woods is scary, so don’t get lost. If you get lost, anything can happen. This is a classic story told without any deviation from its inspiration. What makes Hansel & Gretel a truly Eggers project is its use of title cards. There is no dialogue in this movie. It is filmed, edited and produced like a silent film. It is film like Nosferatu (1922)…which is a movie Eggers has been rumored to be making.
If you give me Eggers remaking one of the most famous gothic, silent movies in the world? Yea, I am all in.
The other great thing about Hansel & Gretel is how disgusting the witch in the woods looks. This short was not made for a ton of money, but the angles, shadowing and extreme close-ups of the witch still make her grotesque. The shots of her eyes, even though she can not see, are emblematic of Eggers being unafraid to show the grotesque nature of his characters.
Hansel & Gretel is about 20 minutes long. The lack of dialogue makes you pay attention and the string heavy score plucks at your ears when the kids enter an unknown problem.
THE TELL-TALE HEART (2008)
I am not shocked at all that Robert Eggers loves Edgar Allen Poe.
The Tell-Tale Heart is riveting. Had no idea that it would be this good. Also it is incredibly disturbing in its final minutes. When the heart starts beating and the constable rises with the eerie smile on his face, I myself got the tickling sensation of excitement and dread.
Do I have guilt about loving something this dark? No, not at all.
The Tell-Tale Heart moves at a crawling snail’s pace and then assaults you with quick moments of action. The smashing of the watch, the murdering of the old man, and the beating of his heart underneath the floorboards.
Eggers’ has a knack for mood and shooting in the darkness. He loves the black & white vibes and classic chapter dividers. There is also cursive, quill pen font.
The Tell-Tale Heart is most like The Lighthouse in terms of it having a mood that is impossible to escape and the idea of being lonely in a large place and living with someone who you deem suffocating.
This movie is dark. You are not going to be thinking of puppies and kittens when the credits for Brothers rolls.
The shortest of Eggers’ short films, Brothers is an expedited tale of two siblings in a remote home who have very remote feelings of affection for one another. The older brother is a classic older brother trying to establish himself as an alpha and make the younger sibling go along with everything. We do not see a father figure in the movie, and we get very limited glances of the mother.
We never see the mom’s eyes. We see her hugging the younger son after the older son did something harmful to him. It obviously stirs something in the boy, creating a sense of frustration and resentment for the affection he has.
So with some tension in the air, why not include some guns?
We see the young brother discover a teddy bear in the woods that has been mangled, and the pair set it up as target practice. Things take a turn when the older brother wants the younger brother to stand right next to the target. There is not much faith from the younger boy, and in a middle of a spit of rage and anger, the younger brother stabs the older brother in the shoulder.
It gets worse.
When the older brother charges at him in justified frustration, the older brother gets shot…in the gut. No chance to survive.
The last thing that we see the mother embracing the younger son.
Brothers is the most modern story that Robert Eggers has put to the screen. Hansel & Gretel has the mix of old looking but modern suburbia home. The Tell-Tale Heart is colonial, as is The Witch. The Lighthouse is set in the not too distant past, but still nowhere near modern times. The Northman is vikings.
Robert Eggers is not afraid to get dark.I think that he actually enjoys it. With the talents shown here, it is easy to see why this was the last short film before Eggers got his big break.
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