The Lighthouse

Glenn Criddle

the lighthouse—glenn criddle—march 2020

It's a bit of an old one to review here I know, but it seems to be doing the rounds at the moment so forgive me for passing over DC's latest offering Birds of Prey in favour of it, it was apparently not made for me anyway as I understand.

The Lighthouse is an all too rare kind of film in the slate of otherwise cookie cutter offerings that dominate the screen-time in theatres. Following two men, Willem Dafoe as Lighthouse keeper Thomas Wicke and the new 'Wickie' Ephraim Winslow, as they go about their unequal job of surviving while keeping the lights on for the passing sailors. This is all while their standoffish relationship is strained by their disdain for each other with neither even asking the others name for quite some time. Over time the pair, in between grating on the others nerves, start to get to know each other a bit but the antagonism continues, especially as the alcohol flows, and strange and dark hallucinations begin to afflict Winslow. As the isolation aggravates their animosity and Winslow's mental state, things become desperate as the relief crew fail to replace them due to a storm and what's even worse is that it's becoming clear that things are not as they seem and that the men are keeping secrets from each other.

It's nice to see Robert Patterson in a role that entirely wipes out the memory of the thing that made him famous, couple him with a powerhouse actor like Dafoe and the energy that results is frankly incredible. The Lighthouse isn't the first thing you may think about seeing, it's a small feeling concept with a tiny cast and a limited world in which it exists but I'll be damned if Robert Eggers (the director) doesn't make the most of everything here. Shot beautifully in black and white, lit to perfection and presented in an unusual format (1.19:1 aspect ratio, a far cry from widescreen) it really does stand out from everything you're likely to see on the screen soon and here it's not a gimmick, it enhances the claustrophobic nature of the story by closing down the space it takes up on the screen. Don't worry though, it only takes a little adjustment before it feels right, it doesn't distract or detract.

The Lighthouse doesn't just rest on the performances and photography though, even the sound is used to maximum effect, most notably through the mournful drone of the fog horn that wails away through day and night, impossible to ignore. The entire soundscape of the film reinforces quite how hostile a place this is, it surrounds the characters even in their place of rest. There's not too many times I can cite where the quality of the sound not just reinforces the film but strengthens and informs it, but The Lighthouse is one of the strongest I've seen in years for that.

Despite having what is a very small and focused story, it does become somewhat disorientating and confusing. This is not a failure in the film, rather it's the heavily psychologically coloured perspective it takes. The mental breaks that our POV character takes are steeped in sea mythology and imagery and after a while, like for the character, reality and dark fantasy begin to merge more seamlessly, rendering some scenes a little baffling until you realise the vision is a perversion of the characters mind. I love this kind of stuff, it's not for everyone but done well it makes for an enduring appeal for future viewings.

The Lighthouse manages to ride a careful line. It's artistic without being pretentious, it's slow without ever being boring, the characters are unlikeable but are fascinating too and it's exactly as long a film as it needs to be. It leaves enough questions to talk about but doesn't feel incomplete and if it's not obvious, I think I may have found a new film to fall in love with.

It's not going to be a film for everyone though, even if I wish it were. It's not an action packed film, the spectacle is often low key though there are some quite shocking moments and it really relies on the audience allowing themselves to be drawn in without the kind of cynicism that is rife today. It's a character piece and if you want a low effort piece of entertainment (no judgement, I enjoy that myself) then it may leave you cold. However, if you want something truly dark, something that'll play in the back of your mind after the event, then you could do far, far worse than give this fascinating film the dollars you may otherwise give to a film that apparently doesn't want you to see it. I think I chose wisely this time around.

I would urge caution for those with more delicate sensibilities though, there is some rather strong content and not just violence. While I personally don't think it's prurient, it's also clear to me that it's not something everyone will want to sit through. I've sat through all manner of madness in films for my horror channel and some of what's in The Lighthouse made even me sit up.

If you don't get the chance to see it at the cinema then be sure to catch it on home release and I highly recommend having the best quality version you can manage, it's worth the extra bucksfor sure.

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