Cannes 2019: The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse is a relentless piece of maritime madness, with transcendent performances from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe

Film Review by Iana Murray | 23 May 2019
  • The Lighthouse
Film title: The Lighthouse
Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe

Lock two people in a room for weeks on end, and they will probably go mad. The same can be said for the two lighthouse keepers stranded on a secluded island in Robert Eggers’ nautical nightmare The Lighthouse. Embarking on a month-long stint tending to a lighthouse off the New England coast, the seven seas are unforgiving territory for these two ‘wickies’ (Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) as tensions rise in water-tight claustrophobic conditions.

Anyone fearing a sophomore slump from Eggers after his sinful debut The Witch needn’t worry, The Lighthouse is a relentless piece of maritime madness. Violence, frustration and rage blend with mythological terror, never providing a reprieve from the battling elements.  

The end credits inform that the dialogue was taken directly from 19th-century journals from lighthouse keepers, lending an authenticity Eggers had also extended The Witch. Dafoe gets most of the meat with a vernacular full of salty jibes hurled at Pattinson to break him down. The performances from both are transcendent, and it’s thrilling to see two of the best actors working today go toe-to-toe for two hours. They’re a pair of Daniel Plainviews with pipes hanging off their lips and axes to grind.

Eggers and The Witch cinematographer Jarin Blaschke conjure a grisly vision in the square-ish 1.19:1 aspect ratio. There are shades of German expressionism in its lighting, stretching the possibilities of its monochrome palette to riotous extremes. Oppressive shadows are cast, projecting the internal monstrosity of the duo. The camera focuses so intensely on its actors, exposing every scar, pore and drop of saltwater on faces perfect for silent cinema.

The eponymous structure is a rickety beast of its own, home to secrets that further fuel devilish obsessions. The reveal of its luminous beam suggests a heavenly rise, but it more resembles a descent into hell.


The Lighthouse had its world premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival – for more Cannes coverage, click here

Follow Iana Murray on Twitter at @ianamurray