Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe
Words – Joe H.
Arriving to begin their month-long term as lighthouse keeper and secondary, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) quickly finds his time ahead will be tending to the more demeaning and punishing tasks of the building under seasoned keeper Tom Wake (Willem Dafoe).
The jagged and inhospitable island the lighthouse inhabits is a remote and stark landscape, the natural elements commanding more than just the sea conditions.
Winslow is told of the fate of the former lighthouse assistant, but dismisses the story as tall tales and sea captain bluster. His work is gruelling, with little respite, and he comes to find that Wake is suspiciously possessive over the light above, denying Winslow any duty to it.
As the dynamic between the two becomes increasingly tense, Winslow’s mental state sinks slowly into the depths, amidst drowning in drink and growing paranoia.
But is Wake constructing his descent into madness, facilitating it through the grinding work and sanity-testing conditions he bestows upon him?
As he begins to question what is real, the light above becomes what could be an end to the surrounding darkness.
The horror lies with what’s to come – does the obsession with the light signal something unnatural?
We see how far each are willing to go against the other, on this isolated rock in ever-worsening conditions.
The sound and imagery work harmoniously, in the most unharmonious way – it’s piercing, all of it.
The light from an oil lamp cutting through the darkness, the deafening noise of machinery, the crashing sound of wind and waves, the whale-like fog horn calls of passing ships, the squawk of the seagulls, the bruising maritime slander – it’s all as dark as the pitch-black that surrounds it, building like an approaching storm.
The film score, composed by Mark Korven, is a creature all its own. It bellows, as if rising from the depths of the ocean, crying out as it both amplifies and pulls you further into the darkness.
Dafoe and Pattinson give performances which are as exceptional as they are because of the other, the clashes and increasing tension between the two clearly raise one another. These gruff, work-hardened and world-weary characters, captivate with every hark and breakdown. You could cut through glass from the glare in their eyes.
This has all been expertly crafted by writer-director Robert Eggers, shot here on black & white 35mm film, who only continues to impress following his debut feature The Witch.
A visceral, hypnotic and hallucinatory tale, The Lighthouse is a standout piece of cinema that needs to be experienced.