Film Review: The Lighthouse

With his nightmarish thriller The Lighthouse, Robert Eggers proves The Witch was no fluke. 

A new lighthouse keeper and a cantankerous veteran arrive on a small island for a four-week shift. As time goes by, the isolation gets to both of them…

Filmed in black and white in Movietone aspect ratio, it is clear from the beginning that The Lighthouse is no run-of-the-mill film. Director and co-writer Robert Eggers explores isolation and mania in a loose narrative structure. The film has an immediately unnerving atmosphere. 

The first line of dialogue does not occur until several minutes into the film. Instead, Eggers builds a strong picture of the setting and the two figures which the film revolves around. Throughout the film there are long periods of no dialogue, interspersed with lengthy conversation scenes. This works to provide a rhythm of the characters’ existence and heightens the idea that it is just the two of them inhabiting the vast landscape. The dialogue (written by Eggers and co-writer Max Eggers) has an otherworldly feel. At one point, Wake delivers a Shakespearean-style monologue.

The longer the film goes on, the more disorientating things become. Both characters seem to lose any sense of time, and Eggers attempts to replicate this with the viewer’s experience. The Lighthouse is a downward spiral, with a jagged, disorientating descent. Eggers obfuscates several elements, making it so the viewer cannot trust the view of either character, or indeed the authenticity of what we are shown. It is unclear exactly where and when the mania will cease, but from the very beginning viewers will know this will not end well.

Cinematography in The Lighthouse is wonderful. Jarin Blaschke uses light and shadow incredibly effectively. The chiaroscuro of the lighthouse beam inside the building is beautiful. Eggers direction is great. There a some deft movements. Eggers depicts the dominance of each character at different times with his choice of angle. The sound design in the film is absolutely fantastic. From the very beginning, the sound sets the scene, with the unnerving reputation of the horn. Mark Korven’s score is restrained in its use, which makes it all the more effective.

Robert Pattinson offers a sturdy performance in this two-hander. He vey effectively conveys his character’s descent, yet wisely does not attempt to meet Dafoe’s power. The film is better for it. Willem Dafoe is authoritative and encompassing, yet not without humour.

Robert Eggers’ sophomore picture once again illustrates his prowess in creating unworldly and disconcerting atmospherics. The Lighthouse is a heady, unsettling yarn.

The Lighthouse is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.

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