Hark! All herald the return of writer/director Robert Eggers, back with his long-overdue follow up to 2015’s The Witch, a film which The Lighthouse shares much of its DNA with.
Just as in The Witch, Eggers spins a suspense-filled yarn with a period setting. In the late 19th century, off the coast of America on a small lighthouse island we join the young, insular Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and the weathered, experienced and grizzled lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), both arriving for a four-week spell tending to the light. A job fated to go horribly awry. It’s on the island, cut off from the outside world, that Winslow begins his descent into madness.
Eggers uses both the location and the period to methodically ratchet up the tension and isolate Winslow from civilisation, from Thomas, and from reality. The island backdrop, with its whirring wind, beating rain, crashing waves and blaring sirens provides a relentless barrage of sound for both Winslow and us, the audience, to contend with. And Eggers leans into the old-world texture visually too, shooting on film, in black and white, using a 1.19:1 aspect ratio that literally boxes the characters in, making their already claustrophobic island even smaller, with (gorgeous) low key lighting and deep shadows isolating them further. While The Lighthouse differs visually from The Witch, tonally the two films feel aligned, Eggers growing even more confident in his highly-stylised, uniquely individual approach here.
Grim though it quickly becomes, it’s not without a sense of humour. Not just from the surprising amount of farting (yes, really), but also from the interactions between Winslow and Thomas. Above all else this a two-hander, a study of an awkward, combustive, uncomfortable and ultimately dangerous working relationship between two men. And it’s the performances, particularly that of the terrifically tormented Pattinson, that sell it.
It doesn’t quite stick the landing, layering mysteries to the point that it begins to feel willfully obtuse, culminating in a completely off-kilter ending that leaves more questions than answers. But from a performance and technical standpoint, you’re unlikely to see anything more interesting this year.
Rating (out of 5):