Dir: Robert Eggers.
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, and Valeriia Karaman.
The breathtaking and eerie The Lighthouse opens with the silhouettes of the newly-arrived keepers on their boat as they lunge towards land, ready for their four weeks spent on this craggy rock, far out to sea. We know who they are, of course. We’ve been waiting to see these actors make their appearance in grainy black and white, seemingly conjured from the 1890s, each frame begging us to drink in all of it’s sublimity. It's Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, starring in the latest film from auteur Robert Eggers (The Witch).
A foreboding, claustrophobic foghorn punctuates the soundtrack of churning waves as they hit the rocky shore, splashing up the side of the lighthouse with forceful ignorance. It will overshadow their early weeks working; Dafoe, known primarily as ‘Old,’ before revealing himself to be Thomas Wake, tending the light and refusing to let young Ephraim Winslow (Pattison) anywhere near it. Thus, we begin to question - what’s with the light?
The pair are at odds throughout - Wake thinks that Winslow is lazy and slow. Winslow thinks that Wake is a drunk, can’t be trusted, a bad cook and a bit ridiculous. The tension is palpable between them at dinner times, a scruffy Dafoe leaning into pirate slang as he tells tales of life at sea while Pattinson does his best smouldering sulks from across the grubby wooden surface and his untouched boiled potatoes. Four weeks pass by slowly, but with the tension Eggers expertly builds, it doesn’t feel slow. He throws in some mermaid dream imagery to keep us as perplexed as possible - some light refreshment between the constant scenes of Winslow occupied with the physical work of tending to the keeper’s quarters.
The day before they are meant to be relieved, we see a storm, possibly brought about by Winslow getting in the way of an angry seagull (no, really.) It’s a frantic and powerful storm that grows in power as the pair start to slowly descend into madness; succumbing to the bottles of liquor that they dig up - but we’re never sure how drunk they are compared to how much their minds are unraveling.
The film is a beauty. It’s literally and physically beautiful, but more than that, it’s a real showcase of what you can do when you have a brilliant script (each character have the habit of lapsing into incredible monologues half-coherently), and actors willing to transform themselves for the role. It’s an incredible duet, a visceral performance from each. A horror? Maybe. I usually find myself hiding behind my hands during most horror movies and this one had me not wanting to look away.