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  Lighthouse, The I've Heard The Mermaid Singing
Year: 2019
Director: Robert Eggers
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, Valeriia Karaman, Logan Hawkes, Kyla Nicolle, Shaun Clarke, Pierre Richard, Preston Hudson, Jeffrey Crutts
Genre: Horror, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: From out of the sea mist looms a ship taking the replacement lighthouse keepers (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson) to this small, rocky island where said lighthouse is the sole landmark. The only wildlife to be seen are the seagulls, though crabs lurk on the shore, and the only company the two men will have for the next month or so will be one another. Thomas Wake (Dafoe) is the senior of them and prepared to do his share of ordering his underling around, but perhaps he would be advised not to go so hard on the young man, for he is under more pressure than might initially appear, especially considering he has been dreaming about a mermaid. He is dreaming, right?

Director Robert Eggers, writing with his brother Max Eggers, conjured up this nightmarish, weirdly comical bottle episode of a movie, not quite confined to a single set, for the characters do a little exploring of the island and the lighthouse of the title, so there were different locations to prevent it getting monotonous, yet the sense of a drama playing out in a claustrophobic site was never far away. What made it even more restricted was its almost square screen ratio, all the better to evoke the photography of the last years of the nineteenth century when this was unfolding, therefore we felt as if this duo were destined to be at each other's throats sooner or later, come what may.

The comical aspect could have been emphasised to make it a genuine laugh out loud kneeslapper, or a purposefully odd fantasy like Cabin Boy of twenty-five years before, but apparently Eggers did not want to pursue that route, though despite his serious intentions a few chuckles and giggles could not help but bubble up through the cracks in the characters' psyches. Really, this was one of those horror movies where you were not supposed to know what was real and what was imagined as the madness descended with crushing inevitability, and to everyone's credit they kept up that balancing act with aplomb, though that very purpose would be unavoidably alienating for some audiences.

If anything, the film appeared to encourage bafflement, refusing to explain itself fully even in the scenes before the credits rolled. The cabin fever chiller had been around in print for longer than it had been on film, though The Shining was the most famous of them all, both in Stephen King novel form and Stanley Kubrick motion picture form, and there were nods to those here in amongst some higher-falutin' references. There was no doubt Eggers was a clever chap, there was a definite intelligence behind what we were seeing rather than some tyro shock merchant trying to make a name for himself and the amount of analysis The Lighthouse was dead set on generating did indeed come to pass, which he must have found immensely satisfying; more for him as director than many a viewer, perhaps.

But as an arthouse horror, a long and venerated tradition that attempted to raise the grotesque to the level of the aesthetic, with its black and white photography and dense sound design (wind, foghorn, gulls crying, and so forth) this was admirable on its own terms just as Eggers' previous, breakthrough movie The Witch had been. He may have been aware of how absurd it was as well, going as far as embracing that ridiculousness and twisting it into something alarming as Pattinson's newbie has the isolation getting to him in a way tearful masturbation cannot soothe, especially when we see his fantasies and they involve him shagging the aforementioned mermaid, as well as a giant octopus attack. This was supposed to evoke Greek myth, if you read into the influences, but it could just as easily be about the younger generation buckling under the expectations and experience of the older generation: Dafoe and Pattinson's relationship was as much an age gap thing as it was anything else, even sexual. But a feast for lovers of overripe acting. Music by Mark Korven.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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