The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, 2019)
After the unexpected success of his debut film The Witch, Robert Eggers launches The Lighthouse. The feature is already creating a commotion among critics and audiences in film festivals all over the world. This week the film was in Mostra de Cinema de São Paulo, where the public demanded for more open screenings, as the ones programmed were quickly sold out.
The filmmaker paired up with Robert Pattinson (Ephraim Winslow) and Willem Dafoe (Tom Wake) in a very dark black & white period film. The Lighthouse is difficult to be filed in a certain genre. Some say it is a horror movie, but it is too funny to the label. It definitely has the scent of Buñuel and sometimes it gets close to what Guillermo del Toro did in The Shape of Water (2017), but only if we consider the sea monsters and the mysticism. The tone, though, is radically diverse as its musicality is macabre. The story is less important than the dusty, musty ambiance.
Leaving Canada behind for the unforgiving terrains of the New England coast, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) reluctantly arrives at the begrimed lighthouse where he will work for the next four weeks. Greeted with gruff hostility by Tom Wake (Willem Dafoe), a veteran seafarer with whom he is obliged to share these uncomfortably close quarters, the pair quickly establish a volatile dynamic, with Tom the baiting slave-driver and Ephraim his battered footman.
Ephraim and Tom hate each other. With his cranky, drunkard voice, Tom intimidates Ephraim to the point that they punch each other. -- It's a funny scene with no need for stunts. -- There is a creeping sense of fear and paranoia stirring Tom's thoughts. Their dynamics become extraordinarily credible despite the mythical creatures. A mermaid strikes a scene of masturbation. And yet Tom feels uncomfortable endlessly. He isn't able to relax.
It is possible that Pattinson's achievement in delivering an uncomfortable feeling comes from the fact that Dafoe is the lighthouse master. He is also mastering the stage. Dafoe never lost his theatrical background whilst Pattinson hasn't had much stage experience. The Lighthouse depends a lot on this weird chemistry called live theatre. The location is crucial for their performances. They feel miserable because they are on a miserable, rainy island surrounded by wild sea birds. They aren't performing for a green screen.
The hypnotic fusion of beauty and brutality is marked by folk traditions and heavy sound design. All lines are poetic and Eggers did massive research on dialects and sailors' lifestyle. Filming The Lighthouse must have been a challenge to all cast and crew involved.
As Brazilian, I can not not hat tip producer Rodrigo Teixeira, head of RT Features. He is investing heavily in risky productions that have reached successful outcomes. Rodrigo also produced Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017), Patti Cake$ (Geremy Jasper, 2017), Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach, 2012) and Severina (Felipe Hirsh, 2018).