Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) takes a lonely role working a lighthouse on an otherwise uninhabited remote island with only his employer for company (Willem Dafoe). Performing thankless and rigorous physical labour in the wild and stormy weather tests the young man’s sanity. He experiences black outs and horrific visions. As madness looms he begins to suspect his colleague is hiding something inside the light.
This film is a claustrophobic nightmare. Every frame feels inescapable and water drenched. The gorgeous black and white photography emphasises texture and movement, always focusing on the macabre. It’s a Dreyer or Murnau’s photography, steeped in gothic horror and lovecraftian mystery.
As with The Witch, Eggers and his co-writer Max Eggers have utilised glorious dialogue that is evocative of the setting. Dafoe in particular espouses this gorgeous, grizzled prose that recalls 19th century ghost stories. Dafoe delivers such lines with a twisted relish, deep intensity and strange humanity. His heavily bearded face initially bespeaks a salty season, but soon suggests an immovable titan, Poseidon manifest.
Robert Pattinson is also fantastic as the frail and haunted Ephraim. His accent may be a little inconsistent but as his sanity drips away he becomes a force himself. A manic, exhausted wretch who throws himself from scene to scene with a wide eyed terror that perfectly encapsulates the protagonists of gothic literature. The tense, sometimes homoerotic chemistry he achieves with Dafoe is glorious.
The film draws heavily on folk tales and mythology of the sea for its terror. Menacing tentacles, luring sirens and unknowable terrors stalk the corners of every frame. This menace extends sound design as well. A lynchian industrial drone soundtracks nearly the entire film.
This is an utterly unique film that demonstrates the twisted brilliance that can be achieved when the right director is given complete control over their work. Eggers has crafted a disturbing masterpiece of horror and has once again proved himself a unique voice in this genre. This delicious, intoxicating cinematic madness.