Dir: Robert Eggers
Release Date: 31st January 2020
Our Rating: ★★★★½
There is so much we could unpack within The Lighthouse but, we don’t do spoilers here at Valks hq, So I am going to keep this review as general as possible. Then, in a few months time, we’ll do a deep-sea dive into the film’s many fathoms!
Light me up
The Lighthouse is set in the late 19th century, Ephraim Winslow is sent on a boat to serve a contract job as a wickie for four weeks on an isolated island off the coast of New England, under the supervision of an irritable man named Thomas Wake.
The Lighthouse is oppressively loud, the foghorn, the storm, that SEAGULL! There is a near-constant cacophony of sounds that keep us feeling cramped, claustrophobic and generally a bit overwhelmed! Composer Mark Kocen’s contribution keeps us stumbling on the wrong footing whilst the music interjects the visuals. Eggers delivers on his ability to present deeply unsettling horror with a peculiar sense of verisimilitude. It is a totally different kind of horror to his previous film, The VVitch, it’s as much a dread-filled bleak horror as it is a giddy descent into the darkness, that holds a sort of rhythm akin to the sea shanties Wickie Thomas belts out.
Certainly not happy as a calm…
Willem Dafoe played haggard lighthouse keeper Thomas, who is much a part of the lighthouse as he is a man. His moods and personality ebbs and swells like the ocean he has set his life upon. He barks his orders to young Ephram and regards him in the later hours as a wild animal might size up an opponent. We never truly know where we stand with Thomas and Dafoe positively attacks the role. He is every bit the salty sea dog, with an unruly wiry beard, a pipe that reminds you of popeye and an accent that borderlines on a parody of a sea captain.
Robert Pattinson shines as bright in his portrayal as Ephrim as the damn lighthouse lamp. He is a criminally underrated actor and brings so much to this role. Between his delivery and his facial expressions his frustration, exhaustion and desperation are palpable. Ephram is consigned to the gruelling manual labour to keep the lighthouse running, whilst Thomas tends to the light. He tends to the lamp with an obsessive, controlling and loving touch which causes tension between the two men.
A well oiled film
Shot in black and white and presented in an aspect ratio of 1.19:1, The Lighthouse thunders on like a silent movie rollercoaster descending into hell. This use of black and white, although arguably more grey, really immerses us in the setting. It immediately makes us think of .old lighthouses and their wickies, haggard sea captains and sailors. Eggers again leaves no part of the film free from his close consideration. Everything just fits in and works together like the workings of the lighthouse.
Themes as changing as the tides
The Lighthouse is a film about many things. Is it about the horrors of isolation? Are the characters in hell or limbo, the lighthouse lamp the beacon signalling their inevitable end? On the other hand are they in some sort of “other” version of the world, where the creatures from mythical depths are coming to torment? Eggers leaves the audience to decide for themselves the truth about The Lighthouse. Moreover, as we said earlier, there is so much we can unpack about this film and we will once the films had some chance to get its sea legs*.
*Sorry for all the sea puns, oh WAIT NO I AM NOT.
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