London Film Festival 2019: The Lighthouse Review

This past weekend I was in London for a meetup with members of the LAMB which was a brilliant weekend. All of us went to see Joker and my thoughts on that will be on an upcoming episode of The Lambcast but, since this weekend was also when the London Film Festival was on, I wanted to make sure I saw one film at the festival. Whilst the original intention of the LAMB meetup to see Jojo Rabbit didn’t pan out, I was able to get a ticket to see The Lighthouse, which has been one of my most anticipated films since it was announced. The Witch is one of my favourite horror films of the past few years and everything I’ve heard about this only increased my hype and this is an instance where the hype is warranted. The Lighthouse is a stunning experience.

Now a general plot synopsis of the film won’t really do much good here, partly because I don’t want to spoil the film, but mostly because the film is focused on atmosphere and theme rather than plot. The general plot is of two men tasked with tending a lighthouse on a remote island but there are themes of the danger of isolation and paranoia throughout the film and how this plays with your psyche and perception of time. We never get a true sense of how long the characters have been on the island and that works to the films advantage, really putting you in the minds of the characters through both the monotonous and the fantastical, feeling every emotion these characters are going through. A lot of the film is left up to audience interpretation, especially with the ending, and whilst you can see the influences on the film, for me the most striking influence was Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, there’s an originality and imagination that’s brought to the film. Like The Witch, I also appreciated the use of language in the film. Eggers’ has a fascination with research and creating an accurate impression of what life must have been like for lighthouse keepers at the time. Well, as accurate you can be when there’s more of a supernatural, unsettling feel to the film. Although, whilst the film is unsettling and disturbing at points, there are a lot of great moments of dark comedy, including a few scenes with seagulls and some really funny moments of bickering between the characters. Again, this helps create a world where, even in the most insane moments, you feel a connection to it and helps you get drawn in.

The performances here are also incredible. Again, it’s hard to talk about them without spoiling the film but there’s a strong sense of intensity from Robert Pattinson, who throws himself into everything with gusto, really showing the paranoia and growing insanity of his character and the changes from someone more naive and quieter at the start to someone filled with rage and power at the end. A lot of this is through very subtle pieces of acting in the first half, slowly growing more intense and manic as the film goes on, helping sell the progression of the character. Willem Dafoe meanwhile is perfectly cast as a grizzled old lighthouse keeper, there being something unsettling Dafoe brings through the way he holds himself, with the differences in the way Dafoe talks and the way Pattinson talks selling the differences in the characters at the start of the film. Dafoe’s performance is the one where it is harder to talk about at this stage but he helps sell the power and the atmosphere of the film. The chemistry between Pattinson and Dafoe helps make the more comedic scenes in the film pop, the two acting like an old married couple at certain points of the film and these moments are strong pieces of levity in a film this intense.

The technical side of the film is incredible as well. The black and white cinematography is incredible, especially with the aspect ratio of the film highlighting the scale and power of the titular lighthouse throughout the film. Alongside this physical power, the black and white cinematography makes great use of shadow and darkness to highlight the growing isolation of the film, with the scenes of light seeming stronger in comparison because of how purely white they are. This is helped by the incredible production design which makes the interiors of and the house the characters live in feel dark and oppressive, adding to the isolating atmosphere of the film, along with helping give the lighthouse itself a unique power because of the scale of it and how different it looks to the house. It is still oppressive, but there’s this feeling of mysticism and intrigue generated every time we look up at the top of the lighthouse without going up there, further putting you in Pattinson’s shoes. The sound design meanwhile is some of the best I’ve heard recently, the droning of the foghorns by themselves creating this sense of dread and unease throughout the film and, when it blares during quieter scenes, it shows how there’s this constant tension that’s always on the horizon. The music as well adds to the tone of the film, not just the background music but also the sea shanties Pattinson and Dafoe sing throughout the film, which adds to the world of the film.

The Lighthouse is an incredible piece of work and one that will be discussed for a long time. The imagery and themes of the films are ones that I know I’ll need to watch the film a second time to start fully appreciating, but I am excited to see this again because of how good the craft of the film is and to see the incredible performances from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe again. Again, since this hasn’t been commercially released it’s difficult to fully go into details without spoiling, but everyone reading this should see the film as soon as they can. With this and The Witch, Robert Eggers has shown himself to be one of the most exciting directors working today and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

My Rating: 5/5

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