Review By Sam Maguire
Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse is a remarkable sea shanty nightmare of a film, fascinated with capitalistic isolation and the lust for power a man looks to hold over another, all played out to a tapestry of black and greys.
To the cry of an ominous fog horn we are introduced to our two men, two lighthouse keepers, one much older and more bearded than the other, one slender, tall and delicately put together while the other is barrel like stout, and ruddy faced. One of them is a career lighthouse man, while for the other, this is just another in a long line of jobs in a long line of pay cheques.
Within the island and its ill maintained lighthouse, with the leaking cottage roof, creaking floorboards and savaged mattress the two men become intertwined, sometimes physically, but always intellectually, within a maddening dance of resentment, suspicion and tense close proximity.
The colourless depths of moral depravity the two revel in takes place within a colourless world. The decision to drain this world of reds, blues, greens and whites caught the eye when the trailer first dropped and this decision is no cheap gimmick.
Not only does the deprivation of colour contribute to the oppressive and ubiquitous sense of heavy gloom and foreboding, it highlights expressions of the face that would normally go unnoticed. The deeply lined and weathered features of Dafoe appear even craggier than usual when leaning over a flickering lantern, and Pattinson’s gaunt, prominent cheekbones glisten with sweat in the sunlight as we see him labour across the island.
No matter how much he toils, the problems never decrease in number, Wick is a hard taskmaster, driving Winslow on to ever greater efforts while he forbids him ever to access the very top of the lighthouse. It is from this vantage point Wick is often spotted by toiling Winslow. Always mindful that relief is coming at the end of three weeks, Winslow’s coping mechanism is the money he is working towards.
As the physical demand and, his resent for Wick increase, combined with intruding, inexplicable strange visions, Winslow’s reality becomes increasingly indiscernible from Wick’s, and this is where The Lighthouse begins to play its biggest cards.
As the madness swirls, the film can be, and has been read in a number of ways, drawing inspiration from Greek myths, man vs god and man vs greed.
The film’s great strength is the seamless and incremental way in which the tension and madness is cruelly dialled up, at no single moment can it be said we have fell into the world of supernaturalism, myths demon and mermaids. From the first frame, pervasive, deep rooted unease is palpable.
What distinguishes The Lighthouse from other tightly wound tension pieces, is the fluidity in which it manoeuvrers between existential threat and dark comedy. The two registers interchange and amalgamate together in regularity, and it is this which grants the film its depth and substance.
Robert Eggers has made a better film than The VVitch, he has made one of 2019’s best films, it is a startlingly provocative and an imaginative piece, a testament to resourceful film making, committed performances and the possibly of cinema even when bereft of large scale financial indulgence.