Robert Eggers is a relatively new face on the film scene, known for his divisive if utterly enthralling first directional feature, the supernatural period horror The Witch. The release of his second film, The Lighthouse, solidifies Eggers’ prominence as a contemporary pioneer of the modern horror genre, a film that blends its technical intricacies remarkably to create a tantalising viewing experience which progressively consumes itself and the viewer in a dark and haunting uncovering of the human condition.

The Lighthouse is set in the late 19th century and follows two lighthouse keepers on a remote island who start to lose their sanity when a storm leaves them stranded. Shot in 35mm black and white film with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, the film stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as the two leads, an ingenious coupling with a tremendous end product. The Lighthouse is a uniquely unsettling, thoroughly mesmerising cinema experience, one which manages to not only call into question the sanity of the characters involved but strains the mind of the viewer in precisely the same way.

By far the greatest achievement of Eggers’ film is its technical aspects. It’s shot in a way that makes it look and feel like it’s come straight from the 1910s, the aspect ratio and monochrome palette intending to induce a similar sense of claustrophobia as endured by its characters. Yet the inclusion of Mark Koven’s score along with some stunning composition from cinematographer Jarin Blaschke implements a notably modern aesthetic and aura, generating a disconcerting intermingling of old and new, reflecting the conflict between its two leads. A lot of The Lighthouse’s resonance stems from the allure of its composition; despite its absence of colour, the exactitude of the cinematography means there is never a dull moment.

As with The Witch, the dialogue is fascinating. Penned by Eggers and his brother Max Eggers, the screenplay floats along seamlessly, like a sailor out at sea. Yet at every corner, a new storm erupts as a plateau of fresh and challenging new developments emerge progressively, allowing the dialogue to shift wondrously between tranquillity and electrifying intensity.

The true impact of The Lighthouse, however, would be unattainable without the flawless execution of both Dafoe and Pattinson. Given such exquisite material to work with, Dafoe and Pattinson stretch the bounds of their acting abilities to extraordinary lengths. Dafoe is a bewitching consistent, the true on-screen tour de force delivering some of the most hypnotic monologues ever to grace cinema with enrapturing conviction. All the while, Pattinson is an absorbing presence operating as the bridge between characters and audience with his gradual descent into madness. The slow-burning nature of the film is channelled through the equivocality of Pattinson’s character; Eggers chooses not to explicitly define the temperament of the pair’s insanity until very late on, which makes the more supernatural facets of the film even more spellbinding.

Nerve-wracking to devastating effects, and far from any sort of convention, The Lighthouse is unlike any other film. Robert Eggers’ latest is immersive, transfixing and enchanting from the offset, a must-see film of this year for its sheer quirkiness, beguiling setting, and outstanding lead performances.

5 stars

Image: Movie DB

Josh Teggert is a Screen Editor at Forge Press.

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