The Lighthouse – TIFF 2019 Review

Since The Witch struck a chord in the art-house horror scene back in 2015, fans have been clamoring for the latest project from breakout voice Robert Eggers. Blending spacial tension with withering familial bonds, Eggers created a tense ball of stress, that continued to untangle over the course of 2015’s divisive horror release. With his latest feature, he manages to take what was so effective in his previous film and amplify it to the point of no return. The Lighthouse feels more self-contained in its premise, yet ever so sprawling in execution, through visual and performative acts simultaneously.

There’s a genuine madness at the center of this claustrophobic and tense journey, playing into the strengths of both Dafoe and Pattinson’s performances. Eggers lays the simplistic character groundwork before letting them go completely loose; a feat that is as dangerous as it is enchanting. What strikes you most about this film from the get go is the visual style, as Eggers shoots a strikingly bleak and isolated environment with technical proficiency and methodical planning. There’s never a single shot that feels out of place, as each moment feels substantial from either a character, environmental, or thematic perspective. The creeping dread of the island is perpetuated by the incredible production, pitch perfect sound design, and some increasingly tense editing that all culminate into what is, quite honestly, a technical marvel; a phrase that is thrown around often, but feels justified as ever here. Everything works together to create an end result that is, from a purely tonal and mood-driven perspective, incredible to behold.

The premise is as straightforward as it gets, but in conjunction with the atmosphere and unique visual style, it absolutely soars. The simple descent into madness is amplified by the aforementioned performances. They’re both refined and simplistically defined, but the psyches of these two confined men begin to unravel and escalate to the point of insanity, with both Dafoe and Pattinson working in peak form. The gorgeous visuals and slightly comedic approach quickly turns hostile, both externally and internally. Reality feels as though it bends and morphs within the subconscious of our characters, continuously shifting this tightly composed chamber piece with each new conceptual introduction. Something this simple on surface shouldn’t work this well, but the film gives you just enough depth to chew on before letting itself loose; giving the madness and hysteria a sense of weight and authenticity. It operates like a hauntingly operatic stage play, making full use of its performers and its immaculately constructed sets, to add a tangible quality to each surreal occurrence. The creaking floorboards, the crashing waves, the waterlogged interiors; everything adds up to create something that’s sensorial, but also character driven in both subtle and extreme ways.

It’s hard to talk in detail about many of the finer elements of The Lighthouse, let alone spoiling it. It’s defined by the senses; so overwhelming in its execution, and beautifully reliant on its performances and setting, that it’s almost dizzying to watch. Eggers has somehow crafted a film that slowly drips its way into your mind with an unparalleled sense of dread and genuinely unsettling (and hilarious) dark comedy, and it’s incredibly easy to see why he’s considered a powerhouse in the current landscape of indie horror film-making. This wasn’t just my favorite film of TIFF this year – it’s a flat-out masterpiece and one of the best of this year!

★★★★★

The Lighthouse will be released in select cinemas on October 18th.

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