GORE IN THE STORE
THE LIGHTHOUSE *****
Directed by Robert Eggers.
Cast: Robert Pattison, Willem Dafoe. Horror, U.S., 109 minutes,15.
Released by Universal in cinemas from January 31st 2020.
Mysteries abound throughout and around The Lighthouse, director Robert Egger's hysterical, alcohol-fuelled and hallucinatory follow up to his evil 2015 debut THE WITCH. Here is another tale of isolation and the madness that seems to go hand in glove with it, helped in no part by the possible influence of the supernatural. Where THE WITCH concentrated on the breakdown of a family unit, this is an examination of masculinity, madness and possibly mermaids. Filmed in cool and atmospheric black and white that enhances the perpetual dampness onscreen, it causes further surprise with the sense of dark anarchic humour that runs throughout it.
"What's a timberman want with being a wickie?" Willem Dafoe's lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake asks of Robert Pattison's Ephraim Winslow. Finding himself ill-equipped for Wake's punishing workload, ill-temper and constant boozing and farting, Winslow's grasp on sanity and reality soon starts to fray on the remote island he finds himself stranded. Haunted by visions of sea creatures and finding himself under constant harassment from a particularly ill-tempered and intimidating seagull, Winslow soon becomes fascinated with Wake's own obsession with the lighthouse's own powerful lamp. As weird as the last sentence may make the film sound, be warned; things get weirder.
The strands of what is real and imagined fray and tangle together into something utterly unique and mesmerising. With this second feature, Eggers may have narrowed down the cast and locations, but his ambition in terms of tone, characterisation rich in psychological nuance with hints of backstory and visual style prove his distinctive talents as a writer and director. His sure hand with tone and mood can not be denied, but there is an argument that can be made that The Lighthouse is not necessarily a horror film. Although there is blood, madness and hints of the bizarre, the film's sense of genre is altogether more nebulous. THE LIGHTHOUSE is as much an oddball buddy comedy as it is a horror complete with near Shakespearean monologues at the kitchen table delivered with spittle-flecked fury before getting back to the business of axe-wielding madmen chasing each other around a windswept hellscape.
Pattison has proved himself one of the most interesting actors of his generation in his post TWILIGHT career with his eclectic taste in projects mirroring his stable of roles. The ever-reliable Defoe also proves that he can still surprise the viewer with his wide-ranging and perfectly pitched portrayal of Thomas. A booze-soaked bully he can be reduced to a simpering wreck when he hears criticism of his cooked lobster only to roar back with the fury of a Greek titan from ancient myth. As mismatched alcohol-fuelled pairings go, Pattison and Defoe make for a pairing not seen since the likes of WITHNAIL & I, but through a near Lovecraftian fiction lens.
Where Eggers goes from here, we will have to wait and see. His long-promised adaptation of Nosferatu may yet appear. If it carries half of the foreboding atmosphere of genuinely mysterious weirdness he provides in THE LIGHTHOUSE, it will be an enticing proposition.
The calibre of the performances, its stylised dialogue plus an ending that will inspire much theorising and debate may inspire much repeat viewing.