The Lighthouse (5 stars)

The Lighthouse

Cannes 2019: Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe face off in a strikingly realised psychological thriller from Robert Eggers

Robert Eggers brought a spare, stark rigour to his feature debut The Witch that promised much for the future. He more than delivers on that promise with The Lighthouse, an oppressive, richly textured slow-burn of a psychological thriller, pitched somewhere between a silent cinema chiller and a Roman Polanski classic.

Set in 19th century Maine, the film unfolds on a storm-tossed, godforsaken scrap of rock that seems to invite madness. Rookie Ephraim Winslow (a glowering Robert Pattinson) and tetchy old sea dog Tom Wake (Willem Dafoe) are the two keepers embarking on a four-week tour of duty to man the lighthouse.

The insecure Winslow is very much the junior partner in the team. His working life is one of menial chores and none of the important tasks. Wake seems to delight in teasing him and pulling rank. Forced to contend with each other, the duo are also at the mercy of an intense, gnawing loneliness. Winslow conjures up disturbing visions of a mermaid. He can never quite decide if Wake is friend or tormentor, comrade or master.

Filmed in a fierce, shadowy monochrome that encourages comparisons with German expressionism, The Lighthouse is also notable for its attention to detail, rich use of salty period language, and unexpected shards of black comedy. In terms of silent cinema, this is as much the child of FW Murnau as it is the offspring of Buster Keaton.

Some of the dialogue might have come from the pages of Herman Melville and the complex, shifting relationship between the two men seems to belong in a Harold Pinter play. Perhaps just a little too slow for all tastes, The Lighthouse is still a strikingly realised, utterly compelling danse macabre, sustained by the tremendous double-act of a lip-smacking Dafoe and a mesmerising Pattinson.

Screened as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2019. General release TBC.

The Lighthouse

  • 5 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 1h 51min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Robert Eggers
  • Cast: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe
  • UK release: 31 January 2020

Ephraim (Pattinson) and Tom (Dafoe) are two lighthouse keepers in 19th century Maine who find that the isolation is getting to them. A slow-burn psychological thriller with rich use of salty period language and unexpected shards of black comedy, filmed in shadowy monochrome: the result is somewhere between FW Murnau and…