Review: The Lighthouse

Film Ireland reviews

DIR: Robert Eggers • WRI: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers • DOP: Jarin Blaschke • ED: Louise Ford • DES: Craig Lathrop • PRO: Robert Eggers, Youree Henley, Rodrigo Teixeira, Jay Van Hoy • MUS: Mark Korven • DES: Sam Lisenco • CAST: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, Valeriia Karaman

The Lighthouse is a piercing psychological horror about two lighthouse keepers in 19th century Maine. Writer/ Director Robert Eggers drew critical acclaim and praise for his debut The Witch, a daring period horror set in New England. With The Lighthouse, Eggers makes a bold return to the directorial helm, as he lures us on a nautical pilgrimage into the darkest depths of man’s soul. Eggers establishes a heightened state of tension and anxiety early on, and never slackens. It’s a near hallucinogenic feast, and the onscreen atmosphere is a hypnotic high-wire act to die for.

It’s barely visible in the fog, but the lighthouse rises out of the island earth like a solemn religious monument. Ephraim Winslow (Robert Patterson) is a newly hired assistant lighthouse keeper. He’s traded a post logging in Canada for this inhospitable domain at the edge of the world. Winslow’s at the service of veteran keeper, Thomas Wake(Willem Dafoe).  From the get-go Winslow and Wake’s natures are set against one another. Winslow, a man of a quiet despondent demeanour, is matched against the overbearing traditionalism of Wake. Wake’s drunken sea chanties, cryptic sea lore and endless superstitions repulse Winslow. But Wake’s puritanical about his superstitions and warns Winslow that his previous assistant lost his sanity.

When Winslow expresses a desire to work the lightroom Wake becomes defensive and guards it with a religious fanaticism. Instead, Winslow’s left with the gruelling shit shovelling tasks of gathering firewood and maintaining lighthouse mechanics.  But the misery and hardship of these tasks grind at his pride and dignity. As Winslow battles isolation and irritation, he becomes enraptured by the incandescent mystery of the lightroom, and haunted by its supernatural calling. Each night as Wake tends to it zealously, Winslow magnetically obsesses over it. But Winslow’s obsession preys at his soul, until his sense of reality begins to drown in a whirlwind of waves and psychosis.

Robert Eggers traumatic images are potent and unnerving. The grainy black and white is a ghostly staple of the film’s prevailing atmosphere. But Eggers is succinct and diplomatic in his use of the camera.  There’s a noticeable restraint and minimalism to his compositions and there’s a clear debt to European cinema, with noticeable influences from the likes of Bergman, Tarkovsky and Bela Tarr. And while Eggers steers the film’s gruelling journey, he’s supported wholly by his able-bodied cinematographer Jarin Blashke. Together they craft an unnerving portrait of Winslow and Wake. Blashke captures the eroded coastal landscapes and imbues them with a euphoric sense of dread that verges on transcendent. These stark images are propelled even further by the haunting a-tonal strings of Mark Korven which bring a steely vitality to the coastal hell of the lighthouse.

As a director Robert Eggers is unapologetic in his nuanced approach. This is a filmmaker who seems at his most content when he goes against the grain and fights the prevailing cinematic winds. And Eggers is more than up to challenge. The Lighthouse is a cinematic bare-knuckle fight, that crashes over the soul in a cathartic wave of existential dread. In these darkened times of blind consumerism and mindless memes, The Lighthouse is a beacon for weary travellers in the dark. A pearl shining in the deep.

Michael Lee

109′ 10″
16 (see IFCO for details)

The Lighthouse  is released  31st January 2020

The Lighthouse – Official Website

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Review: ‘The Lighthouse’ @ Cork Film Festival

 

Sean O’Rourke was at the Cork Film Festival to watch The Light House, Robert Eggers’ enthralling, evocative follow-up to the chilling period horror The Witch

Robert Egger’s latest spooky period piece is so bizarre, so borderline indescribable, that an attempt to sing its praises in any unified, cogent manner seems as doomed to spiral outward into the realm of incoherence as the lead characters themselves. All the same, I’ll do my best to explain why you should go see it.

From its wordless opening, The Lighthouse drops us right into the harsh reality (or perhaps unreality) its characters must endure for the film’s duration. Much like he and his team did in The Witch, Eggers immerses us in this setting completely – mixing harsh realism with expressionistic qualities in a manner not dissimilar to Jennifer Kent’s excellent work on The Babadook. We experience the difficult, everyday realities faced by the two lead characters, played by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, as they operate a lighthouse on a 19th century American island. However, we also witness their steady loss of reality painted onto the film’s visuals, creating a complex visual style that is enhanced by a stark, gritty, unromantic, black and white colour scheme that makes the film feel at home in the 19th century in the same way that particular typefaces and styles of illustration might help a reader visually place a novel in a particular time period. Mark Korven’s excellent score helps with this sense of period appropriateness while also feeling fresh and terrifying.

The film’s visceral assault on the senses is helped by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson who give stunning performances as the two leads. They expertly portray painful transitions between anger, sexual desire, hatred, affection and despair. Often, the only thing that seems to keep them from killing each other is the alcohol that sometimes lulls their angriest impulses and lets them experience something like love for each other. There is a wonderfully strange loathing and fondness between them that is continually compelling.

And all the while, the film skilfully builds an omnipresent sense of doom. Sailor superstitions become horrifyingly present – whether they are real or not. Characters’ suspicions about the nature of their reality and about each other become realized and amplified, creating a sense of mounting terror. Adding to this terror is a sense that time has lost meaning, that logic has become unsatisfactory, that any coherent conception of reality is lost. 

I will stop myself from going into more specifics. This film deserves to be experienced with its many surprises and absurdities intact, and it’s best that I don’t lose the run of myself trying to detail why it’s all so captivating. Suffice to say, the film artfully pulls its audience into its setting and the fragile mental states of its characters. If any of that sounds appealing (or at least morbidly interesting) to you, then a viewing of this film is well worth your time.
 
The Lighthouse is released in cinemas 31st January 2020
 

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