Sunday, 16 February 2020

Film Review: The Lighthouse

Robert Eggers, the scurvy dog, absolutely knocks it out of the park with his sophomore feature, The Lighthouse.

Set in New England during the late 19th century, The Lighthouse centres on two lighthouse keepers who must overcome isolation, battle the elements and fight their inner demons while stationed on a remote, mysterious and weather-beaten island.

Robert Pattinson plays Winslow, a former woodsman who drifts from job to job. He joins Wake, played by Willem Dafoe, a seasoned lighthouse keeper who has survived his fair share of postings, but appears to know more than he's letting on at first.

The two characters share a tempestuous relationship to say the least. As time wears on, resentment bubbles beneath the surface; insomnia, hunger pains and tankards of alcohol lead to delirium and mania; and idiosyncrasies,  bad omens and suspicions pave the way for homoerotic tensions, violent paranoia and visions of maritime myth.

This is a dizzying, nauseating film that isn't for the faint of heart. The film doesn't 'jump' out at you; the scares are more unsettling and squelchy. Tendrils of anxiety reach out of the screen and latch onto the viewer, twisting and constricting you tighter and tighter.

Much like Eggers' debut film The Witch, the dialogue in The Lighthouse is removed from our contemporary lexicon. The characters speak in poetic riddle, which can be hard to wrap your head around – but it's authentic to the era, and once you tune your brain into its frequency, the rhythm and cadence helps stitch everything together.

The photography – nominated for an Oscar last week – is bleak and striking, devoid of the 'warmth' that was baked into Alfonso Cuaron's black and white period piece Roma or PaweĊ‚ Pawlikowski's romantic Cold War. The maelstrom of elements are etched into every frame, so much so that you can almost feel the icy winds on your face or the taste the salty spray from the sea as it crashes over the rocks.

Every aspect of this film geared to unsettle. The crunch of the gears deep in the bowels of the lighthouse; the screech of the seagulls that loom ominously overhead; the deep, throaty boom of the horn that periodically punches through the air. The sound design and mixing –  like pretty much everything, to be honest – in The Lighthouse is simply superlative.

Pattinson and Dafoe both give excellent performances, with the former seemingly ready to fall apart from the moment he sets foot in the lighthouse, to the latter delivering some terrific and terrifying monologues with fear and fury in his eyes.

The Verdict: 9/10

A gruesome and challenging period piece that painstakingly recreates a time and a place, The Lighthouse is a striking and bold Lovecraftian horror that unapologetically finds a niche and wrings it for all its worth.

The Lighthouse is in cinemas across Australia now.

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