‘Beacon’ Movie Review: A Novel Setting, but A Disappointing Misfire Otherwise

If there is a more reliable setup for a thriller these days than “young woman trapped in a place with a man,” I don’t know what it is. It’s incredibly versatile, whether you start out with the man being sweet and progressing to darker places, or have him be malevolent from the start, or invert the circumstances and have the young woman turn out to be the devious one, or anything in between. It’s reliable because there’s an easily perceived threat that we all understand, and it’s generally an easy set-up.  Beacon is the latest entry in this genre.

From screenwriter Julio Rojas and director Roxy Shih, it follows a young woman named Emily (Julia Goldani Telles) who sets out to sail solo around the world but shipwrecks while trying to navigate a storm around Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America and a notoriously difficult passage to sail.  She is rescued by Ismael (Demián Bichir), the keeper of a lighthouse at this far end of the world that is nearly inaccessible at the best of times, let alone during stormy weather. 

The first half of the film does a good job of setting up the two lone characters in opposition. Emily is suspicious of Ismael, the lone and lonely man living in this remote place, and Ismael is wary of Emily because of a steadfast belief in the supernatural, going so far as to warn her not to brush her hair for fear of summoning a siren.  This back-and-forth of mutual distrust works really well, and in this half of the film, we go back and forth a number of times, presenting how Ismael could be trustworthy or really not.  Both actors put in their best work in this half of the movie as well, playing into the tension inherent to the situation.

The second half, however, is unfortunately not as strong. The blame lies mainly with the script, which persists first continues the see-saw of whether Ismael is trustworthy a few too many times, but then cannot decide what kind of movie it wants to be. There are two good avenues for the film to go down, one in which Emily is right and Ismael is the bad guy, and another in which Ismael is right and Emily is some kind of demon from the sea, and the problem is that Rojas and Shih continue to try to keep you guessing which way things will go that it feels like they’re trying to do both.  By the time they make a choice, it’s way too late.  

There’s a little fault with the actors, though veteran actor Bichir definitely gives a stronger and more committed performance. There are some great makeup effects as well, and more than a few genuinely unsettling scenes. Cinematographer Daphne Quin Wu does a great job with the sets and locations; the island walks that line of starkly beautiful while also being foreboding and dangerous, and even scenes in the dead of night are well-composed and easy to follow. 

Ultimately, I am sure that Beacon will appeal to some horror fans for the novelty of the location, and fans of Bichir may want to watch it for the sake of completeness; the film is a disappointing misfire.

Beacon recently premiered at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival.

Learn more about the movie at the Tribeca site for the title.

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