A24 strike again, just when you thought it was safe to enter the cinema. Horror is a bit dead at the moment; what is needed is a stir up. As with all their releases, the A24 studio put a spin on what you expect, and give you that bit extra.
Last year we had Midsommar, which proved to unsettle, at the same time as being set in bright Swedish sunshine. This time we are in a stark, minimalistic black-and-white environment, and stuck on a small island. The only company the two lighthouse keepers have is the seagulls, and as Willem Dafoe’s warning goes “It’s bad luck to kill a seabird!”. (His speech when winning at the Independent Spirit Awards is well worth watching, within this context.)
Laid out like a theatre play, we get to know the two characters through dialogue, and as tension builds we find out more about who they are. Do we trust what we think, though? Can they trust each other? Robert Pattinson is a former lumberjack called Ephraim Winslow. He might be running away from something, possibly himself. Thomas Wake is the old Wickie (so called as they trim the wick of the oil lamp) whose job it is to train newbies in the backbreaking work involved with maintaining a lighthouse in harsh conditions. Unlike The VVitch, Eggers' first film, this is not just disturbing as all hell, it is hilarious with it. Don’t get me wrong, you will be taken on a trip down into the centre of what can be between two men trapped together with only booze, fishy food and farts to keep them afloat. It’s dark, jet-black dark, and the best comedy for years.
The insults just keep coming as the situation gets more desperate. Eventually pulling both men into the quagmire, as Lovecraftian tentacled nightmares cloud the vision of Winslow, who is being pulled in directions he cannot control. Read the poem Unda or The Bride of the Sea to get an idea of his thoughts and desires.
It may be set in the past, but nothing much changes, however. We’ve been on similar trips as the format hints at, but we haven’t gone to these places before. Plummeting into the depths of human psyche, it’s a wonderful ride.
If you are likely to be put off by gratuitous wind, violence taken out on large and vicious seabirds, bloody revenge, and lonely, self-hating masturbation, it might be worth taking note. That’s a large part of what this film contains.
The Lighthouse is out now at a cinema near you