Light in the darkness

The Lighthouse (15, 109 Minutes)

After the overbearingly sinister ending to his feature debut The Witch, director Robert Eggers unsurprisingly became one of the few directors in our time with a key to the epically dark recesses of cinema.

You can only expect that kind of privilege to be bestowed upon a select few directors with a track record for the grim and macabre, the likes of David Lynch and Darren Aronofksy spring to mind.

The nature of these great film makers seems to fall under the same intent – to shock, scare and debate, though Lynchian code has led us to the belief that an answer is never definitive. Ambiguity could be the greatest cinematic technique.

But just when you thought the bar had been set, Eggers delivers an existential bombshell in the form of his latest release.

The Lighthouse is the most nail-biting, heart-palpitating, horrific thing I have ever witnessed on screen. It derailed my belief of impenetrable safety behind the walls of an Odeon, sealed me into a 1.19:1 aspect ratio and mocked me in my silent, newfound claustrophobia.

Worst of all, I loved every single minute of it.

In the late 19th Century. Wickie Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) is stationed at a bleak lighthouse on a solitary island off the coast of New England. Charged around by the bitter, somewhat schizophrenic Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), Winslow finds his time on the island slow and cold, haunted nightly by surreal imagery of mermaids, sea monsters and darkness.

The relationship between the two men burns as time drags on, but the sudden arrival of torrential weather destroys their rations and blocks their ferry home, leading both men on a descent into madness. Nothing is as it seems.

This story is a tough mind-twister. Everything learnt must be taken with a degree of caution, for the point of such events befalling these two wickies is a mystery best left unknown, for the sake of your own imagination.

Why? If you have the bravery to think of such theories, some may prove dark enough to keep you up at night. There are some seat-jumping moments in no way provoked by the scare factor but more for your own unsettled disposition during the events that take place. Certainly a reaction horror has been unable to do this since I first watched THAT crucifix scene in The Exorcist many moons ago.

Is this a film about ghostly lighthouses or insanity? It really doesn’t matter.

Both lead performances are completely submerged in the mystery. If they went in as actors, they certainly did a job of removing any presumptions of individual ability.

Pattinson is brilliantly passionate in his craft. Less of the anaemic teen that glows in the sun like a disco ball and far more depth, despair and fear bubbling away throughout.

Dafoe however, known to be very particular in his work choices and yet completely varied in genre (just compare Von Trier’s Antichrist to Aquaman), is exceptionally unnerving in a performance that funnily reminded me of Bela Lugosi in Son of Frankenstein.

There may be a strong competition for Best Picture this year, but if The Lighthouse misses out on any awards I will cry, and it’ll be the Academy’s fault.

Watch this on the biggest screen, with the best sound. If you dare.

RATING: 10/10