Two men (Willem Dafoe & Robert Pattinson) arrive at a desolate lighthouse for a one-month stint operating the creaky old navigation device, and long story short, proceed to go mad.
The performances are terrifically over-the-top (it’s a men-going-mad movie, after all), but what these two do here is more than mere Big Acting. Dafoe, of course, is no stranger to outré roles, and his work here is fierce, operatic, biblical (and an absolute hoot). That he makes all this believable, not to mention mesmerising, is a testament to the veteran actor’s skill. Pattinson, somewhat surprisingly, matches him scene for scene, and for my money, this performance finally exonerates the poor guy from the enduring stigma of having appeared in those dopey Twilight movies, and heralds his emergence as a serious actor.
But this is first and last a director’s show. Just when you thought horror moviemakers had run out of ideas and falling back on recycled tropes, boo!-scares, violence and gore aimed at 12-year-olds, along comes a director like Robert Eggars (and his co-writing brother Max). This movie shows that the writer/director’s The VVitch (2015) was not a fluke and marks him as a filmmaker to watch.
Eggars breathes new life into the tired old horror genre. First, he’s done this in black and white, and masterfully so, using light and contrast to create a jarring surrealism. Then, he frames his film in a nearly square format that complements and enhances the vaguely 19th-century vibe. It’s at the same time old-school and new age.
This is a bonkers, squirm-inducing sit that’s by turns hypnotic and hallucinatory, slyly sinister, dazzlingly dangerous, clammily claustrophobic and totally memorable. And I can’t remember the last horror film that included fart jokes. A real scream. This one shines. (109 min)