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.
16 (see IFCO for details)
The Lighthouse is released 31st January 2020