The Lighthouse, though it is about a lighthouse, is slighty ironic in title as this is a gloomily lit black & white film from writer – director Robert Eggers whose last film was The Witch, a distinctive debut which bought him to the attention of Robert Pattinson & Willem Dafoe here respectively playing Thomas Howard the new assistant to grizzled old lighthouse captain Thomas Wake. It’s early 19th century New England and both arrive at the Lighthouse to start their four week shift and arrive all sunken eyed and hollow cheeked at the door looking like they’ve walked off the set of an early silent Soviet film. Its one of several tableau’s that Eggers uses to striking effect throughout the film as the pair begin their stint. With only each other for company, their rations and the Captains booze they set about their duties or at last Pattinson does as he’s bossed and bullied by Dafoe trying to break the boy after his last assistant mysteriously left the job. It’s not hard to see why as the first half of the film has Dafoe berating Pattinson to work relentlessly in appalling weather and making it quite clear who the boss is and that he has the power to dock his wages. Pattinson’s only relief seems to be furiously whacking off over an ornament of a mermaid and if this is the only entertainment that Lighthouse keepers had at the time it goes some way to explaining perhaps why the oceans are so salty.
It’s a compelling first half beautifully photographed with both actors giving it their all with Dafoe looking like Captain Birdseye’s malevolent brother and Pattinson battling with his accent which travels continents often in one sentence. It all changes when at the end of their four weeks their relief is unable to get to them due to the torrential weather conditions. Isolated with their food rations finished there’s only the Captain’s booze left and the simmering anger that Pattinson has been harbouring over his treatment soon surfaces and the power dynamics begin to change. It’s this second half that many will have a problem because it is as much an endurance test for the audience as it is for the characters who, addled with booze, go off at the deep and the violence begins.
Eggers wrote this with his brother and it is loaded with references that would reward a second viewing with the stuff of mythology that includes Poseidon, Prometheus, mermaids and a one eyed seagull that torments Pattinson. The Lighthouse is beautifully photographed hence its Oscar nomination this year with some astonishing scenes in the most appalling weather conditions all of which were shot on location. Eggers films are stylish and there’s the influence of early David Lynch films here and the intermittent blaring of an ominous fog horn only adds to the sombre and downbeat atmosphere. Like The Witch there are some shocking and disturbing moments of violence – bird lovers will be in a flap about one scene with Pattinson and a seagull. Very much a film of two halves The Lighthouse is a two hander drama with horror elements that would be at home on stage but Eggers flourishes make this a highly individual cinematic if overlong experience.
Here’s The Lighthouse trailer……..