The HoloFiles

TRIBECA 2024 REVIEW: Beacon

By George & Josh Bate

Beacon review

There’s something so simultaneously cozy and unnerving about a contained thriller. Restricting a story to a single location certainly comes with its narrative challenges, but it also affords a distinct flavor of suspense and intensity. Shining examples of this subgenre of cinema include Rear Window, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Panic Room, The Hateful Eight, and now a film premiering at 2024’s Tribeca Festival hopes to follow suit as another successful contained thriller.

Beacon follows a young woman named Emily (played by The Affair’s Julia Goldani Telles), who decides to follow in her father and grandfather’s footsteps by sailing around the world by herself. When a treacherous storm disrupts the journey and leaves her shipwrecked on a remote island, Emily is taken in by Ismael (played by A Better Life’s Demián Bichir), the operator of the world’s most isolated lighthouse. As Emily recuperates with the help of Ismael, tensions rise and the two begin to grow suspicious of one another, leading to a fight for survival.

On the surface, Beacon bears a resemblance to Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, although a more apt comparison is 10 Cloverfield Lane. Both psychological thrillers follow a young woman, who seeks refuge in the containment of a man’s home following an incident. Immediately, there is a sense of tension and desperation as the audience tracks Emily as she wakes up from her shipwreck in a bed and in the presence of the mysterious Ismael. Initially, it is very easy to identify with Emily, who understandably navigates this predicament with trepidation. Is Ismael a bad guy? Can Emily trust him? Director Roxy Shih, screenwriter Julio Rojass, and Demián Bichir’s Ismale all anticipate these questions and take preemptive action to answer them. 

When introduced, Ismael is as warm and reassuring as they come. He goes out of his way to make sure Emily feels safe during an unsettling situation, including showing her where the only weapon on the island is, encouraging her to lock her door at night, and even relocating to sleep in the lighthouse while she sleeps in the house. Things feel safe for Emily and the audience, but is it a little too safe? Is there something more here?

Beacon excels in this first half, which is filled to the brim with suspense and mystery. It’s in this first half that the filmmakers position the audience solely in the perspective of Emily as she navigates this situation, which creates a tense atmosphere akin to many other contained thrillers, including 10 Cloverfield Lane. 

Eventually, however, this changes. Beacon shows itself to be an intriguing and innovative exercise in perspective taking by soon casting suspicion, not just on Ismael, but on Emily too. To this point, the audience and Emily have been side-by-side in this unnerving situation, discerning whether Ismael can be trusted. Gradually, over the course of the film, a shift occurs in which additional questions arise: Can Emily be trusted? Is she the bad guy here? To explain how these questions are posed would be to reveal a key component of Beacon, one that comes as a surprise and creates a different dynamic in the film.

With only two characters on screen and suspicion cast on both of them, the film begins to keep the audience at arms length from Emily and Ismael. What was once a story told solely from Emily’s perspective now feels more distant as there are struggles to get into the minds of either character. The mystery has become more interesting, although this is at the expense of intimate connections to a character, which progressively fade. In turn, the sense of intensity so strongly cultivated in the first half similarly deteriorates without a character to trust and get behind. 

As a result, Beacon somewhat fizzles out by the time it reaches its final act. Thankfully, the film avoids a disappointing ending, concluding on a more abstract note that poses lingering questions for the audience. It is just a shame that, by the time this ending comes around, the film has largely lost the suspense and investment that made it so captivating to begin with. 

Beacon review

That doesn’t mean that there is an absence of things to admire in Beacon. Director Roxy Shih, who previously helmed the post-apocalyptic thriller The Tribe and Facebook Watch’s Mira Mira series, crafts a beautiful film here, with the lighthouse scenes shot at a historical site in St. Johns, Newfoundland. The island that serves as the sole setting of the film becomes a character unto itself in many ways as the characters battle the elements, in addition to their companion, in a fight for survival. Cinematographer Daphne Qin Wu teams with Shih to create a purposefully dull, gray aesthetic to the film. The colors feel dampened and match with the dreary isolation that Emily walks into here. This, coupled with excellent production design from Justin Reu, make Beacon the kind of contained, cozy psychological thriller that immerses, captivates, and unnerves.

Similarly successful are the dual lead performances from Julia Goldani Telles and Demián Bichir. The two are given an immensely difficult task to subtly shift their performances in conjunction with the film’s shifts in suspicion and perspective, and they tackle this task masterfully. Telles makes Emily an empathic, vulnerable, and, eventually, mysterious character with a performance that depicts so much, even in the absence of substantial dialogue. Bichir, meanwhile, is responsible for making the film’s narrative shift feel so organic. Bichir portrays warmth and kindness so well, which is vital for the film to achieve its initial paradox of suspense and trust. Both actors command the screen and help carry the film, even when its exercise in perspective taking stumbles.

VERDICT: 7.5/10

Bolstering two strong lead performances and beautifully unfolding in a remote island location, Beacon is an effective and captivating contained thriller. What begins as a more personal thriller with mystery and suspense loses its way somewhat in a second half that creates distance between the characters and the audience at the expense of some innovative storytelling and perspective taking. All of this results in an experience that feels like The Lighthouse meets 10 Cloverfield Lane, despite lacking the intensity and intrigue of these similarly contained thrillers.

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