Sunday, February 09, 2020

The Lighthouse – two salty keepers and a lewd tale of horror

William Dafoe plays an old bullying keeper who farts and belches while barking orders at his novice colleague (Robert Pattinson). The Lighthouse starts out as a tense stand-off between these two men. Every manual duty to keep the seafaring facility ship shape is handed off to the taciturn probationer; nothing is shared, particularly not the senior keeper’s command of the higher levels of the tower. It’s two weeks before Ephraim shares his name; another fortnight before Thomas follows suit. By then, the isolation – much like the damp – is beginning to spread and rot their nerves and any sense of wellbeing.

The question that runs through the film is what would cause someone to choose to spend alternate months on a remote offshore lighthouse? What are they running away from? Expect to find out some but not all of the answers as the gruelling and somewhat extreme character study shines its bright light into the depravity of these men’s souls and their grim surroundings.

Director Robert Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke perfectly capture the isolation and fierce climate in this black and white tale. The near-square aspect ratio, lack of colour, and idiomatic language underline the 19th century setting, a time before radios and diesel-powered generators.

As time passes and the relationship between the two wickies continues to decline, their lewdness grows, and a plentiful supply of alcohol swerves the action towards the delusional and possibly even the siren-enhanced supernatural. Pattinson lets fly with an unhinged performance that allows Ephraim to display a turbo-charged rage while Dafoe walks the tightrope between noir and nutty as the odd couple square up to each other’s habits and insecurities.

Ultimately the concept and the skilful imagery are superior to the story. Despite the ending, neither man is a Prometheus, and their increasingly violent tussles do little to grip during the final half hour of the 109-minute film.

The Lighthouse is being screened in Queen’s Film Theatre and at some Movie House and Omniplex cinemas. If you do go and see it, don’t forget that gulls aren’t to be messed with!

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