The Lighthouse [TIFF19 Review]

Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF

Walking out of The Lighthouse a big sense of uneasiness inhabited me. A feeling I couldn’t shake away even hours after seeing the film. It left its mark, an impression that wouldn’t leave me even after leaving the comfort of my chair. But even in front of all this uneasiness, my eyes never looked away from the action that unfolded in front of me. I was mesmerized by what I was witnessing. The Lighthouse is powerful when you think about it: a spectacle that is shot on 35mm in black and white with only two characters and that never loses your attention. As the film progresses, you can feel the madness slowly invade your being. You feel trap, you are transported on the island with them. As they go deeper into their madness, you follow them along. Even when it’s all over, when everything is wrapped up and you sit in the darkness of the theatre as the credit play, your body is frozen in space. The Lighthouse is an experience, an experience that will leave you wanting more but also dreading more.

The Lighthouse is a beautifully controlled madness. Building slowly to its incredible ending sequence, it never stops shocking you. But the twists and turns of the story never feel cheap. The driven madness of the film that is developed on the course of the action makes you question what you see. The madder they get, the more it gets complicated. Everything feels like it’s closing down, the walls are closing in on you. A lot of the paranoïa that you experience and the feeling of being trapped are created not only with the help of the script but the sound design of the film. The constant sounds, the waves crashing down, the sound of the horn from the lighthouse, it all contributes to the feeling of the film. It transports you, makes you believe that you are there. It’s a great use of sound, a use that is not often utilized in film and elevates the film to another thing completely. I truly believe that without the sound design, the film would have never worked.

The film relies a lot on the abilities of it’s two leading men, Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, but they both came in great form and deliver some of the best performances of their career. Dafoe, in particular, has a lot of the meat when it comes to the script. A lot of his scenes, not only in the monologues but also in the framing of the scenes, reminds you of Greek tragedy and Dafoe excels in them. Paired with Pattinson, he is able to flex his acting muscles and deliver a pitch-perfect performance. While Dafoe’s character has a lot of things to say, Pattinson’s his more tame, or at least is at the beginning. What is incredible about Pattinson’s performance is that he gives two in one really. He is the new element in the film and so we learn about his as Dafoe’s character does. Because of that, Pattinson is free to slowly gets his performance to become bigger and bigger. Pattinson has slowly become one of the most interesting working actors in Hollywood right now and with this one, he proves once again that he is a force to be reckoned with.

The Lighthouse has this look about it. With a different aspect ratio, filmed on film and in black and white, it doesn’t feel like something we would normally see today at the theatre. It’s a film that becomes something else completely because of the feel of it all. It could have been a disaster but every creative decision work. It’s not fun to watch and you can’t help but feel uneasy but it’s also the best damn thing you will watch. Never faltering, The Lighthouse is itself and benefits from that fact. One little thing changed and maybe it wouldn’t have worked the way it does. From the setting to the characters, from the script to the acting, from the lighting to the editing, everything works perfectly together which helps create one hell of a film.