Film Editor Matt Taylor spills the beans on Robert Eggers’ haunting new picture, The Lighthouse
‘Keepin’ secrets, are ye?’ So asks Willem Dafoe’s Wake of Robert Pattinson’s Winslow – but it’s also a question we ourselves could ask of writer-director Robert Eggers. The Lighthouse marks Eggers’ sophomore feature, after his utterly transfixing debut in 2016 with The Witch, and it is a complex, enthralling, confounding, horrifying, and ultimately alienating piece of cinema that is sure to shake your heart and soul.
There isn’t much of a narrative to discuss, per se. Dafoe and Pattinson play our protagonists, a lighthouse keeper and his wickie respectively, who slowly but surely come to blows as they are stranded on the island together with seemingly no chance of liberation. Eggers’ film is intensely psychological, and in many ways hard to penetrate, but, ultimately, the deeply unsettling rewards are more than worth reaping.
Dafoe and Pattinson each put in their best work in years; we want to believe in both of them, but Eggers remains sure that we are never, ever sure which of them we can trust – if either. Direct scenes of conflict between the two are some of the film’s standout moments as Jarin Blaschke’s camera never falters during their soliloquy-esque speeches (brilliantly co-written by Eggers and his brother Max), simply letting each man do his job, and do it brilliantly. Both Wake and Winslow are compulsive liars – or are they? Do they even exist in the first place? Is one simply a figment of the other’s imagination? Such are the questions that The Lighthouse leaves us with that seem to remain unanswerable.
Pattinson’s Winslow is the more primary protagonist of the two; perhaps it’s Pattinson’s usually-charming demeanour that gets us on side with him, but his descent into madness (if that is indeed what it is) is wonderfully charted, and although we never quite feel sympathy for him, we can’t help but hope that he manages to escape in one piece. Dafoe, however, proves his worth by acting the excellent Pattinson under the table. He pulls out all the stops to unleash hell in his stellar turn as Wake; his scenes of rage are virtually unparalleled by any other working actor, made all the more uneasy by the fact we know virtually nothing about Wake as a man. Each of them pushes the other closer and closer to the edge, and we are left waiting, breathless, on the edge of our seats, for one of them to explode.
The Lighthouse is helped along by every one of its technical components being utterly stellar. Jarin Blaschke’s camerawork is never less than gorgeous, dipping in and out of fluid takes and static shots at will to suit the mood of the scene. Shooting in both black and white and a 1.19:1 aspect ratio only furthers the level of uncertainty that Dafoe and Pattinson bring us, as the compressed screen leaves us with an intense feeling of claustrophobia, while the reduced colour palette makes everything pop even more than it would had the film been shot in colour. Mark Korven’s score is beautifully earth-shaking, capitalising on every single morsel of tension that exists and eking every possible millisecond out of it. His use of horns is particularly striking, and contributes to the film never letting its audience feel at ease for even a second. Credit must also be given to sound designers Damian Volpe and Mariusz Glabinski for managing to create a traumatizingly harsh soundscape that only contributes to the atmosphere of the film, never taking away from it.
Films of this sort seem to come along seldom to never: it says a lot that two of the names listed under the ‘director would like to thank’ portion of the credits are highly praised horror directors Ari Aster and Trey Edward Shults. With The Lighthouse, Eggers has firmly stood himself alongside modern horror auteurs of that calibre: his latest is an utter mind-melder of a film, a piece of cinema that is sure to shake you to your very core with its ferocity, mess with your head with its tricky narrative, and leave you reeling with everything else it has going for it. To Mr Eggers, in his own words: ‘Here’s to ye, ya beauty.’
While The Lighthouse may not ultimately live up to the terrifically high standards he set himself with The Witch, Robert Eggers has delivered yet another masterpiece; a film that will get right under your skin and seep into your brain, before scrambling your head and then vanishing into the night, leaving you lost for words, wondering what the hell just happened to you.
The Lighthouse is now showing at select cinemas.
Images courtesy of A24 films. All rights reserved.
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