The Movie Waffler Tribeca Film Festival 2024 Review - BEACON | The Movie Waffler

Tribeca Film Festival 2024 Review - BEACON

Beacon review
Shipwrecked on a remote island, a young sailor grows suspicious of her rescuer.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Roxy Shih

Starring: Demián Bichir, Julia Goldani Telles

Roxy Shih's Beacon combines two distinct sub-genres. One is the "keeping a lighthouse will drive you mad" idea we've recently seen in Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse and Russell Owens' Shepherd. The other is the classic psychological thriller setup of a woman stuck in a confined setting with a man who may or may not mean her harm. Wev'e seen the occasional gender reversal of the latter trope (most notably Rob Reiner's adaptation of Stephen King's Misery) but it usually relies on the inherent mistrust women have of strange male figures.

Beacon review

That's certainly the case here, as young sailor Emily (Julia Goldani Telles) finds herself stuck on a remote island with a potential male predator. Attempting to replicate her father and grandfather's feat of circumnavigating the globe, Emily runs into trouble on the southern tip of Chile when a violent storms wrecks her boat and runs her aground on the aforementioned land mass. Blacking out, Emily wakes to find she's had a wound in her abdomen stitched by her rescuer Ismael (Demián Bechir), the sort of bearded seadog I'm obliged to describe as "salty."

Ismael is the lone inhabitant of the island and the keeper of its lighthouse. He claims to have attempted o contact the authorities but his one radio is out of order so he'll try again once the weather improves. Yeah, we've heard that one before mate. Having likely seen some of the other cinematic variations of this story, Emily is distrustful of the older man, but Ismael makes several gestures that seem like genuine attempts to put the young woman at ease. He offers her his pistol and decides to sleep in the lighthouse while she stays in his home. He even lets her use the radio to prove it's busted.

Beacon review

Like the recent Australian thriller You'll Never Find MeBeacon attempts to second guess our gender preconceptions and biases by dropping hints that suggest Ismael may have reason to be wary of Emily. For this dynamic to work, both characters would need to be presented to the audience with an equal ambiguity. Unlike You'll Never Find Me, which introduced its potential protagonist and antagonist at the same time and thus gave us no reason beyond our own biases to decide who fit which role, Beacon clearly announces Emily as an innocent party by showing us exactly how she ended up in Ismael's company. The film occasionally tries to make us question her presence on the island nonetheless, which just doesn't make any sense. We know she's there purely by accident. Had the film opened with the moment Emily wakes in Ismael's care, we could have more readily indulged this suggestion.

Beacon confuses things further by adding a supernatural element hat sees the film veer into territory covered by Eggers' The Lighthouse. Ismael seems to live in mortal fear of his island being invaded by mythical sirens. Rather than viewing this as a sign of madness caused by his isolation, Emily accepts it as mere seafaring superstition. If Emily doesn't take it seriously, why should the audience? Moments of nightmarish body-horror distract from the more grounded psychological thriller trappings and come across as a cynical attempt to reel in horror fans.

Beacon review

The film's strengths come from Bechir's performance, which ranges from avuncular and cuddly to disturbed and threatening, and the moody setting of its misty, wind beaten island. The latter gives Beacon a visual edge over most movies that employ this premise as it allows the drama to open up to the outdoor elements. The final twist is effective in challenging our gender notions, but it's the very attempt at even-handedness that causes this two-hander battle of the sexes to run aground before it can complete its course.

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