THE LIGHTHOUSE, directed by Robert Eggers (THE WITCH), is a difficult film to classify. The feature is a flatulence-filled period piece set in 19th-Century Maine, following the tale of lighthouse keepers Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) as they become increasingly deranged, violent and desperate to escape each other’s company. When Ephraim starts to question why he’s not allowed in the mysterious lighthouse, the line between reality and fantasy begins to blur, and old deeds are brought bubbling to the surface. Only one thing is certain: it’s a mad, melancholy masterwork.
Unlike Eggers’ debut, THE LIGHTHOUSE is a notably streamlined affair. It’s shot entirely in black and white on 35mm film, the soundtrack is simple and discordant, and, to top it off, there are only two members of the key cast. Pattinson and Dafoe spend the length of the film stuck on an island together, utterly alone but for the ever-present swarm of seagulls around the central lighthouse, which looms above our protagonists wherever they go – and it’s this wonky, twisted chemistry the duo share that allows the film to soar to new heights.
“It’s a clear demonstration of Eggers’ directorial skill that each transition feels so effortless…”
From Ephraim’s quiet, seething resentment to Tom’s intense, unrestrained mania, both Pattinson and Dafoe give career-topping performances that only improve as their situation becomes increasingly bleak. Their relationship fluctuates between boss and employee, father and son, trusting friends and vitriolic enemies – and the tone shifts just as quickly. Eggers weaves from quiet tension to slapstick comedy to surreal horror without a hitch – one moment the pair will be dancing, then fighting, then drunkenly swapping barbed insults until the cycle begins anew. It’s a clear demonstration of Eggers’ directorial skill that each transition feels so effortless, and of the acting ability of Pattinson and Dafoe that it works at all.
The soundtrack, while less arresting than the expert direction and performances, is nonetheless engaging. Low, booming horns and sharp, metallic screeches punctuate the silence, accompanied by staccato strings and pounding drums that cast a foreboding shadow over each and every scene. This is similarly reflected in Jarin Blaschke’s beautifully stark cinematography, utilising tight frames and slow, heavy camera movements to create a sense of tension that, thanks to Egger’s deft pacing, never lulls for a moment.
Surprisingly funny, delightfully twisted and deeply unnerving, THE LIGHTHOUSE sets a high-water mark for festival horror.