Reviews | Written by Laura Potier 17/10/2019



A close-up of a mermaid’s vagina, Robert Pattinson furiously masturbating to a statuette, Willem Dafoe dancing drunk and naked, a scene-stealing performance from a seagull… The Lighthouse is guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Directed by The Witch’s Robert Eggers from a script he co-wrote with his brother Max, this stunning sophomore feature takes place in the 1890s, on a rocky and barren island in New England over which the titular lighthouse keeps a watchful eye. It’s here that, isolated from the rest of the world, two men will struggle to keep their sanity and their secrets.

Dafoe and Pattinson give deeply primal performances as Thomas Wake, a flatulent old salt jealously keeping the light from his new apprentice, Ephraim Winslow, a young man seeking an escape from his past. Despite their instantly recognisable faces, both stars seamlessly disappear into their roles (and their facial hair) as they devolve into madness – and gleefully drag the audience down with them. To say any more of the events that unfold would be cruel. In the case of this film in particular, the less you know, the better.

The Lighthouse is a masterclass in claustrophobic filmmaking and sensory overload. Shot in inky black and white on 35mm film, and with an almost perfectly square aspect ratio reminiscent of the silent era, the cinematography and editing work to trap the viewer in. Every detail is oppressive, from the ominous foghorn that resonates throughout, to the seamen’s almost impenetrable accents and dense speech. Dafoe’s wild eyes alone would be enough to swallow you whole.

Eggers has flawlessly constructed a visual experience where the line between reality and hallucination has all but dissolved. The brothers create an incredibly rich tapestry, drawing from German Expressionism, the Gothic genre, Greek mythology, mariner legends, and the writings of Herman Melville and Sarah Orne Jewett, and weaving in suggestions of the supernatural, paranoia, and psychological horror.

The resulting work feels both ancient and timeless, historical and mythical. It will also introduce you to some of the best insults ever immortalised on film – “You smell like curdled foreskin!” might be a good one to whip out next time you catch yourself losing an argument.

Beyond being an assault on the senses, The Lighthouse also provides a reflective examination of masculinity, homoeroticism, sexual desire, death, isolation and violence, and human nature. It’s primal and sophisticated, horrifying and hilarious, surreal and grounded. It defies definition or explanation.

Just go see it. Go see it at the cinema if you can. Go to a late showing, sneak in a flask of rum (or maybe, if you want to make Dafoe proud, a bottle), sit back and allow yourself to be entirely submerged in this batshit crazy work of art. And be ready for the fact that once it’s over, seagull cries will really stress you out.

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