Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB.
An east coast lighthouse in the late nineteenth century is the setting of this nightmarish drama that examines the friction that develops between its two main characters. Robert Pattinson has come to work as a “wickie” for veteran lighthouse-keeper Willem Dafoe, relegated to the more arduous tasks of moving rocks and mud through pouring rain, never permitted by his superior to go up to where the light is kept shining. With a storm approaching the coast, Pattinson’s already brittle mental state is thrown into a confusion of rage and fear and Dafoe reacts by coming down even harder on him, and what at first was a friendly bickering becomes outright conflict not helped by the younger man’s nocturnal visions of screaming sirens and sea serpents. Every element is brought to a perfect boiling point in this masterful experience by Robert Eggers, who takes inspiration from Herman Melville but plugs his peaceful melancholy into an electrical socket, indulging in experimentation that dovetails perfectly with his tangible narrative; the rich imagery generated by the charcoal-like monochrome photography and boxed aspect ratio along with an incredible soundscape create the relentless building of dramatic tension that is never exasperating. The stunning physical elements would be nothing without the performances, though, and from both leads we get the benefit of actors at the top of their skills: Pattinson’s wary, catlike gaze speaks volumes and he submits himself to the grueling physical abuse with full dedication, while Dafoe spouts his character’s poetic bluster with command, fully embracing the Captain Highliner stereotypes of an old tar but brilliantly creating a real human being out of them.