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  • Gareth Crook

The Lighthouse (2019)

Black and white 4:3 films are like buses. This seemed like a good double-bill with Bait, but despite the technical similarities they share little in common. To start, this is tighter than 4:3, it’s pretty much 1:1 and feels claustrophobic as hell. It’s also a period pierce, set in the late 1800s, although to be fair that’s of little importance. It also has some rather A list stars in Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. It is based by the sea though, as the title gives away, in a lighthouse. A dark, cramped, creaking lighthouse. It’s not the sort of environment you want to be stuck in with someone you don’t like and the lighthouse keeper and his junior do not like one another. They’ve been drafted onto to isolated island for a month, to fix things and maintain the light, simple enough, but isolation does strange things to people. The sounds are eerie, drawn out brass and strings, that sounds like whales, mix with grinding machinery, an ever present ticking clock, seagulls and waves. The weather beaten island seems alive and it’s clear from the outset that the young junior feels ill at ease. Possibly not helped by his flatuant boss, who insists on the cushy jobs, leaving the heavy lifting to the underling. It’s only half way through their stay, that the junior asks to be called by his name, Ephraim Winslow and Thomas, the Lightkeeper only introduces himself on their final night before relief comes in the morning, but back to that later. It starts to become clear to Ephraim that things aren’t right, as Thomas becomes more infatuated by the light and the local gulls start to give Ephraim more of a hard time, as he tries to fix things on the tiny island. I’m thankful it’s black and white, when Ephraim snaps and batters one gull to death against the buildings white walls, black blood splattering everywhere. Something he’s been warned is back luck. It’ll be okay though, he’s leaving in the morning and won’t have to put up with the dirty plumbing, freaky seagulls, or chamber pot filling Thomas... or will he. Not if a raging storm has anything to do with it! As if the first act wasn’t unnerving enough, it only gets more intense as Ephraim’s disturbing visions increase and his own obsessions with the light, still off limits to him increase. Hefty volumes off booze are consumed, nights seem to go on forever, names are confused, but all along the storm rages on. As the final act unfolds, so does Ephraim’s life story, himself more than meets the eye and his madness growing to unfathomable levels with a sequence of scenes more powerful than the waves. Pattinson is fantastic, but Dafoe, Dafoe is monumental. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s certainly rewarding. I’m starting to think all films should be shot this way.



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