Run time: 109 minutes

Director: Robert Eggers

Cast:  Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, Valeriia Karaman, Logan Hawkes

Synopsis: A hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers trying to keep their sanity on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.

Showing in: 2D

Robert Eggers, imaginative director of the critically acclaimed horror period movie The Witch (2015), returns with The Lighthouse – co-written with his brother Max – a tale inspired by a real incident that took place at the Smalls Lighthouse in Pembrokeshire, Wales, in 1801.

Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe star in this hypnotic and terrifying tale of two lighthouse keepers, marooned and fogbound in a remote and forbidding location. As they engage in an escalating battle of wills, trying to ward off terrors that might be supernatural, or could merely be figments of their imaginations, we follow their gradual descent into madness. Eggers takes the genre to new heights, lacing terror with dark humour in the first must-see horror film of 2020.

The Lighthouse is a masterpiece of existential dread from the opening shots – inky black and white images, trapped in an almost perfect square frame (the aspect ratio is 1:1.19), capturing through the fog the prow of a boat, which heralds the arrival of two lighthouse keepers at a remote Atlantic island off the North American seaboard.

“Stick to yer duties, the light is mine,” warns Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), a grizzled old sea dog with a corncob pipe, a wild beard and an indecipherable brogue.  “I am well wedded to this here light.”

His taciturn younger apprentice, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), performs lowlier chores — swabbing the floors, emptying the chamber pots and shovelling coal into the furnaces that feed the light, all the while appearing to harbour long-simmering resentments and hidden secrets.

Most of the time Pattinson’s Winslow just retreats into the coal shed to drop his trousers and drool over a tiny topless porcelain mermaid in scenes that are strangely emotional, until the mermaid springs into life (Valeriia Karaman) and shape-shifts into a grotesque.

Such horror visions abound. Dafoe’s Wake strips naked at night and climbs up to the lighthouse’s lantern room. Winslow is haunted by images of coffins and decapitated heads, and is regularly bullied by a belligerent one-eyed seagull.

In two utterly mesmerising performances, Dafoe and Pattinson veer wildly between hostility, comradeship and outright hatred. They frequently get drunk and hungover, and are obviously keeping dark secrets from each other.

With echoes of Melville, Coleridge,and Shakespeare in the script, and strong supernatural, phallic and classical Greek symbolism, The Lighthouse is a deeply psychological and haunting piece of work that is stunningly crafted with meticulous attention to detail.

Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke creates unforgettable images, and the queasy sound design by Damian Volpe makes the lighthouse foghorn sound like a fatalistic warning from Hell. Music by Mark Korven combines with the visuals to thoroughly unsettle the viewer; while Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson deliver crazed performances with more than an occasional hint of humour about them.

Overall a disturbing and unique sea shanty of a film.

Images courtesy of A24