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Film Review: The Lighthouse

3 February 20 words: Fabrice Gagos

Robert Egger's second feature film makes for an immersive and dreamlike cinema experience...

Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, the one-eyed gull
Runtime: 109 minutes

In 2016, Robert Eggers brought us the dark and haunting folk tale The Witchand since then, I’ve been nervously awaiting its follow-up. The Lighthouse is finally released in the UK and this time Eggers decided to go totally mad.  

Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson, sparkling in the role) starts his four-week contract as a wickie - a lighthouse keeper - on a remote rock somewhere near the New England Coast. Winslow works under the supervision of Thomas Wake (perfectly portrayed by Willem Dafoe), a grumpy, limping old man full of stories and superstition. Soon the isolation and the constant storm start to take their toll on the already grim characters. From the beginning, we know only one thing: this is not going to end well.

And that’s about all I would say about the story. Not because I don't want to spoil anything, but because that's about it. We simply witness two men slowly sinking into madness, and we’re going to enjoy it. Don’t expect plot twists, or any revelation; you won't find any big events that magic will undo just because we need a sequel, because The Lighthouse, like The Witch, is a sensory experience with depth that resides in how the tale is told, and simplicity is the key.

The unusual cinematography for which Jarin Blaschke - cinematographer of all Eggers’ projects so far - got a well deserved Oscar nomination, is a big part of this experience. First of all, The Lighthouse has been shot in an almost square aspect ratio of 1.19:1 to fit the verticality of the lighthouse itself and create a claustrophobic atmosphere and secondly, if that wasn’t enough to make all the producers flee, the film is shot in monochrome with a cyan filter to make the skin tones darker and blood look almost black.

I could almost feel the cold of the wet winter

The result is dark and organic, with faces that are weary, ugly and expressive. This may looks like some useless technical trivia, but this choice is at the core of the film, creating a unique mood and making us feel like we are also trapped in this narrow building. Whether it's the sound of the water dripping in the house or with some dissonant music, the sound design also contributes to create this haunted, almost dreamlike, ambience. I could almost feel the cold of the wet winter on this rock lost in the middle of the ocean. Or maybe the AC was faulty. I don’t know. Either way, The Lighthouse made me travel through time and space, and that’s what any good story should do.

The Lighthouse is also a story about stories; how they are told and how they make their way through our mind to influence our perception of reality. This was already the case in The Witch, but Eggers has taken it to another level and you will probably leave the theatre wondering what you just have seen.

It's really refreshing and redeeming, in an era of blockbusters that are merely big ads for the next one - and for a selection of sponsors - flooding our precious “available human brain time” to see that it is still possible to build this kind of project without compromising. Robert Eggers is mad, but we need more of this madness. Please. 

And now, I’m nervously awaiting the follow-up.

Did you know? The film was originally intended to be an adaptation of an unfinished short story by Edgar Allan Poe.

The Lighthouse is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 13 February

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