Stars: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson
Writer-director Robert Eggers’ follow-up to the chilling ‘The Witch’ is an almost unquantifiably strange combination of psychodrama, bleak comedy, period bromance and hallucinatory nightmarish mood piece. It’s the 1890s and Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) has signed up for a four-week stint working at a lighthouse off the New England coast. His sole co-worker is the portentously named Thomas Wake (a riotous scenery-devouring turn from Dafoe) an ill-tempered tyrannical old salt who treats Winslow like a slave. After Winslow finds a small wooden figurine of a mermaid in his cot, he begins to have disturbing visions and becomes convinced that a one-eyed seagull is observing him. Ancient Mariner-style, Wake warns him off killing the gull as they are reincarnated sailors. When a storm descends and the duo are completely cut-off, with their sole food reserve turning out to be yet another case of grog, Winslow and Wake brawl and bond manically, before seeming to descend into complete psychosis. The boxy aspect ratio, redolent of films from the late 20s and early 30s, and vivid inky black and white photography imbue the film with a disorientating timeless quality. Scored, unnervingly, with North Atlantic blasts of belligerent brassy horns, it’s an intense and singular experience with Dafoe and Pattinson making a fine double act, with Dafoe in particular making a meal of darkly poetic dialogue pitched somewhere between Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe.