DRAMA; 1hr 49min
STARRING: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe
Bad blood: Dafoe (left) and Pattinson
The arresting lines of Jarin Blaschke’s black-and-white cinematography are an eerie trigger from the opening, nightscape shot of The Lighthouse, in which two men sail towards an uninviting island. The date is the late 1890s, the place is far-flung New England, and the issue for the lighthouse keepers will be the tenuous grip of rationality in isolation—as it was five years ago for the seriously unfortunate family in filmmaker Robert Eggers’s 2015 skin-creeping debut, The Witch.
Autocratic sea dog Thomas Wake (Dafoe), for one, seems half mad from the beginning, with his manic cackle, his bossy attitude and his dogsbody demands. The island on which he and his introverted lackey, one-time lumberjack Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson), are holed up is no sea breeze, either, with its spartan cottage, its Hitchcockian bird life and a joyless, sunless climate that disintegrates into wild, imprisoning weather.
The men—both of whom, it’s revealed down the line, are actually named Thomas—deal with their claustrophobic entrapment in the worst possible way, throwing self-control out the window after multiple mugs of booze while stabbing viciously at each other’s buttons. T1 (Dafoe), who is a proclamatory windbag and a terrible cook, likes to get naked in the lighthouse lamp room. Meanwhile, an ungrateful T2 (“If I had a steak, I’d fuck it”) isn’t so much falling apart as shredding his sanity layer by inflamed layer, inhaling anything alcoholic, turning on an aggressive seagull and (maybe!) hallucinating a landlocked, screaming mermaid (Valeriia Karaman), then fantasising about having sex with her in a fit of masturbatory angst.
With their love-hate cycle now a surging pressure gauge, the men’s duelling egos explode into the kind of deranged, scenery-shredding delirium beloved by Serious Actors everywhere. The Thomases are locked into the primal fight of their lives, and Pattinson and Dafoe are with them all the way, going hell for leather through every diabolical round