FOUR AND A HALF STARS Two men work on a remote lighthouse. The isolation is driving them mad.
Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson
PERIOD DRAMA HORROR #THELIGHTHOUSE
It's the late 1800’s and a lighthouse keeper (Willem Dafoe) collects his new assistant (Robert Pattinson) for a four week tour-of-duty on a remote island somewhere on the North Atlantic coast. So begins a journey into hell for both the keeper and the assistant.
First up you need to know that THE LIGHTHOUSE is arthouse cinema at the most extreme; some bastard child of David Lynch and Ingmar Bergman (think ERASERHEAD meets THE SEVENTH SEAL). Written and directed by Robert Eggers with his brother Max, it’s shot in silver tone with an almost square ratio (Instagram with a black and white filter). As befits the manic story, the soundtrack is sparse, extreme and loud. So too the performances which are jarring and distressing as they build to create a sense of unbridled horror.
It starts when Dafoe’s Thomas Wake announces he’s in charge and forces the unpleasant tasks (cleaning the cistern, loading coal, basically any laborious or foul job) on Pattinson’s Thomas Howard, a young man who has escaped lumber camps in Canada for reasons he’s not keen to share. Nor does he care to explain why he won’t drink, until he does. It’s a turning point in their relationship that pivots from morose indifference to a position of drunken camaraderie.
The change occurs when a fierce storm has prevented Howard’s rotation back to the mainland. Or so he thinks. Wake insists they’ve only been there a few days, not a month. But then he’s clearly insane. But maybe Howard barking mad as well? Even in his sober, more lucid moments he masturbates about a mermaid and has visions no rational man would think real. It’s about here that THE LIGHTHOUSE removes the shackles of conventional story telling and journeys into the heart of cabin-fever’s darkness.
It’s quite a journey. THE LIGHTHOUSE defies audience expectation almost from the outset: take the eerie foghorn that is an unsettling presence in the story, not only as a portent of bad things to come but also its auditory assault on the viewer. It’s very unsettling, which is the point of course. Everything about THE LIGHTHOUSE is unsettling as the story evolves from period drama to period nightmare then outright horror. Everything Eggers learned in his acclaimed THE WITCH has been amplified.
The cast are similarly amped. Dafoe goes full-bonkers chewing scenery like a stranded Captain Ahab (as drolly noted by Howard in one of the men’s deliberately funny moments) while Pattinson himself goes full method (much of the booze drunk on camera was actually booze it transpires). Much of the onscreen torment bleeds off the screen and the results are as kooky as they are thrilling, as bizarre as they are profound. This study of machismo and mania is nothing if not odd, yet THE LIGHTHOUSE for all its what-the audacity is by far the most inventive and exciting cinema you’ll see this year. A big call with eleven months yet to run.