Mermaids, masturbation and madness, oh my! This bonkers black-and-white film from The VVitch director Robert Eggers is a rip-roaring two-hander featuring career-best performances from Spiderman’s Willem Dafoe as the grizzled old lighthouse-keeper and Twilight’s Robert Pattinson as his taciturn new assistant Ephraim.
Set on a solitary and severe, weather-whipped island, the claustrophobia is palpable as the two men initially tiptoe around each other while a booming foghorn soundtrack forebodes disastrous things to come. For such recognisable faces, it’s remarkable how wholly both actors disappear into their roles, embodying the harsh physicality, tortured minds and fantastic facial hair of these characters whose secrets would be enough to drive anyone mad.
The blood, sweat and tears (and a range of other even less sanitary bodily fluids) that went into making this film are evident from how perfectly framed every moment is, resulting in a poetic, Promethean, psychosexual exploration of masculinity stripped back to its barest form. With all that going on, the film still manages to maintain a sharp sense of humour, all while oscillating wildly between moody, oppressive silences and stage-worthy monologues.
Starting with a solid period of no dialogue at all, the piece swells masterfully into a frenzy of action. Gentle touches and drunken dancing devolve into vicious fights and vice versa as the tension builds to a breaking point, and Ephraim will stop at nothing to discover the secret jealously guarded at the top of the lighthouse…but will he lose his sanity along the way?
A film like no other, there’s an intense exploration of philosophy and human nature underlying the tentacled hallucinations and vivid, fevered epiphanies.There’s also a lot of farting, some fantastic swearing, hints of homoeroticism and a detailed close-up shot of mermaid genitalia. I promise you’ve never seen anything like this before.
The Lighthouse arrives in UK cinemas 31 January 2020.