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