THE LIGHTHOUSE, releasing February 6.
With the sound of a blaring foghorn, The Lighthouse introduces its namesake setting from afar; a distant yet foreboding beacon of light in a monochromatic world. In the 1890s on a tiny island off the coast of New England, a veteran lighthouse keeper and his novice assistant, a ‘wickie’, arrive for a four-week appointment. The mood is stark from the outset, the men scarcely speak to each other and when they do it’s only in grunts and short phrases rife with incomprehensible maritime jargon. After two weeks pass and they finally learn each others’ names they start to become more familiar, though an undercurrent of mutual suspicion ensues.
Just like emerging horror master Robert Eggers’ previous (and first) directorial effort – 2015’s The Witch – mystery is a compelling factor in his twisted narratives. The older man of the two, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) speaks fondly of previous years spent at sea and his begrudgingly retired life on land due to an injury that has left him with a limp. His only salvation: the hidden seduction of the radiant lantern room atop the lighthouse that he insists on tending to alone. Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) meanwhile, is a man of far fewer words, defecting to lighthouse maintenance for a new start. Like an enchanting distillation of Greek mythology, Gothic horror, and with touches of Becket-style cabin fever absurdism, The Lighthouse wears its stylistic influences on its sleeve, landing with a dazzlingly original flair. The performances from the two leads are electric, moving from insane and terrifying to spontaneous and comedic within a few beats. Constant mutual indiscretions keep the two men at odds, and as the storm intensifies and the consumption of alcohol becomes more plentiful, the tension between them swings from violent to something else entirely. All of this transpires within a 1.19:1 aspect ratio that renders the shape of the frame a near-exact square, giving the already black and white movie an extra-vintage feel in addition to its overall mysterious atmosphere.
Of singular mention is Jarin Blascke’s now Academy Award-nominated cinematography which uses the confined onscreen perspective to truly convey the unease of the film’s story and the sublimity of its setting. Although the lighthouse itself is no more than five metres in diameter, Blascke’s movement of the camera discovers uncanny perspectives, using lengthy shots to convey and exaggerate its imposing height and hidden threats.
In effect, The Lighthouse bears down upon its audience like crashing waves in a storm. A relentless tour de force for its two leads’ off-kilter chemistry, its primal energy and satisfying historically-realist aesthetic ensures that it invokes a dreamlike almost nightmarish tone that is hard to forget.
This blog post was written by Patrick McKenzie, a staff member at Palace Norton St, film studies student, and freelance writer.