BFI London Film Festival: The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse
The Lighthouse
Directed by Robert Eggers
Starring Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson and Valeriia Karaman
Screening at LFF October 5th, 6th, 11th and 13th 2019

by Alex Plant

The Witch was a hell of a debut feature. In the company of movies like It Follows, Get Out and Hereditary it helped push the term “elevated horror” into recent cinematic discourse. With The Lighthouse, director Robert Eggers has delivered an equally striking follow-up to The Witch, albeit one that is less bound by genre conventions.

Former logger Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) arrives on a remote New England island to begin a four-week stint working as a lighthouse keeper, where his only company is a cantankerous and fart-filled sea-dog named Tom (Dafoe). As the veteran of the pair, Tom restricts Winslow to the lighthouse’s more menial jobs, in turn leading him to covet care of the actual light itself, which seems to have an almost supernatural hold over superstitious Tom. As the weeks pass, the pair seem to simultaneously grow closer and further apart, and the isolation takes hold of Winslow and forces him to face his murky past.

From the mesmerising opening sequence, accompanied by the ominous drone of the island’s foghorn, The Lighthouse sucks you into a world that it only drip feeds you information about. We don’t even learn our characters names until halfway through the film, but Eggers keeps us hooked through stark and stunning visuals, which were shot on 35mm black and white film stock. Every shot is immaculately lit and thanks to the 1.19:1 aspect ratio the entire movie feels authentically aged. The oppressiveness of ever-present lashing waves and howling winds conjure a truly palpable sense of foreboding and isolation and when the visions and the madness come, like Winslow, you’ll have difficulty distinguishing them from reality. This sense of aqua dementia is heightened thanks to Mark Korven’s otherworldly score.

Pattinson and Dafoe each deliver incredibly raw performances and, as in The Witch, Eggers’ penchant for stylised period-authentic dialogue is a perverse pleasure to listen to, and here even occasionally lends itself moments of levity. Dafoe’s delivery is particularly arresting.

Both men clearly put themselves through quite an ordeal shooting this movie, but the payoff is a spectacular monochromatic trip into the mouth of maritime madness. To call it a horror feels reductive. The Lighthouse is the confident and unpredictable work of an auteur and sets a high standard indeed for whatever Eggers’ third film turns out to be.


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