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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

The Lighthouse (MA) - 109 minutes

A descent into despair and madness, The Lighthouse is a decidedly arthouse character study into two isolated, lost and troubled souls.

It is a period piece set on a remote island off the coast of New England.

Two lighthouse keepers – played by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson – are trapped due to a ferocious storm.

They engage in an escalating battle of wills as tensions boil over and mysterious forces swirl around them.

As The Lighthouse opens, two “wickies” arrive at a remote outpost off the coast of Maine to man the beacon and perform maintenance on the island’s facilities.

They are tasked with being there for a month, but that is not how things work out.

The strangers couldn’t be more different.

Thomas Wake (Dafoe) is a seasoned and spirited lighthouse keeper. He’s all controlling and dresses down his enigmatic underling, Efraim Winslow (Pattison), at every opportunity.

Winslow, a former lumberjack, is trying for a fresh start after a troubled past.

He’s a man of few words who throws himself into his punishing duties: whitewashing walls, patching the leaky roof, hauling coal, scrubbing and polishing brass, servicing the cistern and fueling the lighthouse beacon with kerosene.

But nothing he does seems to satisfy Wake, who also expects Winslow to drink with him, even though Winslow doesn’t want to imbibe.

Wake is also prone to superstitions, which Winslow doesn’t buy into.

As weeks go by, the power struggle between the two men escalates and intensifies as their by now collective drinking to excess leads to drunkeness.

A massive storm, from which there is seemingly no escape, bears down and then rages across the island.

Co-written (with brother Max) and directed by Robert Eggers, The Lighthouse features many of the same crew that brought to life his first film, The Witch.

They include cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, production designer Craig Lathrop, costume designer Linda Muir, composer Mark Korven and editor Louise Ford.

Dafoe puts in one of the performances of his life as the old salt with a decidedly rough underbelly.

Mind you, I found his use of old English very difficult to understand, at times.

Let it be said that Pattinson has come a long way from the Twilight series. This is arguably his most obtuse work to date.

Shot in black and white in an almost square frame that was used in the early sound years by filmmakers including Fritz Lang, The Lighthouse’s minimalistic dialogue and languid pacing will prove a bridge too far for most.

The absence of colour certainly allows the filmmakers to exploit the shadows … and, dare I say, there are a lot of shadows in the both men’s past, a little of which we find out about.

Still, there appears to be a randomness to the order of much of what we see on screen, although we quickly come to understand the “stir crazy” nature of the confinement to which the protagonists are subjected.

I should add that I am not at all convinced of the need to drag this out to near on two hours. 90 minutes would have been adequate.

Be prepared for a number of confronting and disturbing scenes in what is a warts and all picture that will have only limited appeal.

I admired the artistry, although I saw The Lighthouse as, at times, too indulgent.

Rated MA, it scores a 7 out of 10.


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