MOVIE REVIEW: Art house horror gets that sinking feeling
Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson
Running time: 109 minutes
Verdict: A misbegotten bromance
No ships run aground in this tempestuous, black and white two-hander, in which the barometer is stuck permanently on stormy, but the screenplay starts taking on water about two-thirds the way through. At that point, the actors' decision to go down with their 19th century vessel takes on an almost heroic quality.
But while the desperate intensity of Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson's performances complements The Lighthouse's increasingly unhinged register, it's not enough to save the film
Director Robert Eggers (The Witch) successfully harnesses the ocean's elemental force in an arresting, fog-shrouded opening sequence, which charts the lighthouse keepers' arrival at a remote, windswept island where they are to cohabit for the next four weeks.
An eerie soundtrack that combines clanking machinery with disembodied foghorns and pounding waves heightens our sense of unease.
The Lighthouse's initial set-up, in which Dafoe's curmudgeonly old salt baits, bullies and browbeats Pattinson's taciturn newbie, is tense and engaging.
The film's austere natural backdrop - off the coast of New England - is suitably atmospheric and the lighthouse keepers' dark, moody dwelling belies Eggers' former life as a production designer.
Sporting an unkempt beard and rotten teeth, Dafoe embodies Wake, a seasoned "wicky" with a penchant for quoting verse and knocking back hard liquor, so completely, you can almost smell his foul breath.
Pattinson is good, too, as Howard, the brutish greenhorn who shares certain key qualities with the character the Twilight star played in David Michôd's The Rover.
The two men relish the chance to go head-to-head in the early sequences, where the power dynamic shifts subtly back and forth.
But the longer their characters spend on the island, the harder the slog - for all concerned.
The more Wake abuses his authority, the more Howard is transformed into a potential threat.
It becomes increasingly difficult to determine which of the two of them has the strongest hold on reality. When combined with alcohol, testosterone and isolation are a potentially toxic
The situation becomes even more fraught when the two lighthouse keepers forge a kind of drunken, combative camaraderie.
Add sailor's superstitions and marine mythology to the mix, and you have the recipe for a full-blown art house horror. If one of these men doesn't finish the other one off, a malevolent mermaid or a predatory, one-eyed seagull certainly will.
The Lighthouse opens on Thursday