At its best, cinema can approach being indescribable. ‘FW Murnau directs an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ doesn’t make any kind of coherent sense on paper, nor is it something you can easily visualise. Yet this is the insane space that The Lighthouse occupies. A knockout cocktail of farcical comedy, German expressionism, and nautical horror, Robert Eggers’s sophomore film feels like it’s been let out of some kind of maximum-security vault by mistake.
As far as premises go, The Lighthouse does more with less; strand Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe in an 1890s lighthouse and watch them go mad. Visions from the past and a power struggle over access to the lamp deepen the insanity until Dafoe is eating soil and Pattinson is screaming about foreskins with a Daniel Day-Lewis-like intensity.
The pair give titanic performances, letting the wildness of the nautical slang-filled script propel them to equally freaky places, and the camerawork makes them look by turns pathetic and monstrous. Eggers’ choice to have it filmed in grainy monochrome is perfect, letting the hypnotic light come to the fore and blackening blood and body fluids into primordial, Lovecraftian goop (The Lighthouse is a gross ride).
Just how funny The Lighthouse is came as a surprise, but it will have you laughing just as frequently as wincing at the horrors or wondering what’s behind the house’s locked doors. That Eggers balances all of these tones is a sensational achievement, and it’s a genuine joy to watch a filmmaker in such bravura control of his craft.
He conjures stunning, divine images that look even more incredible next to the omnipresent filth. The Lighthouse is utterly unlike anything else you could see this year, a resounding crash of myth and grime that absolutely has to be seen to be believed.
CAST: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe
DIRECTOR: Robert Eggers
WRITERS: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers
SYNOPSIS: The hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.