Beacon Is Simplistic Yet Remarkable With Searing Tension [Tribeca]

Beacon still of Emily, played by Julia Goldani Telles, staring.

Beacon skillfully uses the closed, dim setting to string tension as the duo navigates the thin line between friendship and distrust.  

Playing at Tribeca Film Festival, Beacon builds up stranger danger in a tense thriller that keeps you guessing. The film’s setting, an isolated island with limited communication and no means of escape, dials up the natural suspicion. Every scene dangles a heightened sense of discomfort pulled taut. With a maritime element tied to the growing tension, Beacon is a delightfully uncomfortable film that keeps audiences seesawing between a lightkeeper and a stranded sailor. 

Under the direction of Roxy Shih and the pen of Julio Rojas, Beacon introduces us to young sailor Emily (Julia Goldani Telles, BurnheadsThe Girlfriend Experience). Viewers witness her nautical adventures through her video journal. It spotlights her old-school reliance on traditional navigation and her knowledge of the sea and its lore. Her plan to circumnavigate the world abruptly ends when a storm wrecks her boat. She wakes up on a small island, in a house with a lighthouse nearby, with lightkeeper Ismael, played by Demián Bichir (Godzilla vs. KongThe Nun). Beacon skillfully uses the closed, dim setting to string tension as the duo navigates the thin line between friendship and distrust.  

Beacon Is Clenched Fist Uncomfortable

Beacon still of Ismael, played by Demián Bichir, sitting in front of a candle with Emily, played by Julia Goldani Telles, sitting behind the candle.
Still from Beacon. Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

Nothing horrifying happens in the first half. Yet, the uneasy sense in every scene in Beacon leaves audiences on edge. This movie showcases how, even with a lean setting and only two cast members, a film can rival huge blockbusters. In each scene, moviegoers wait for the other shoe to drop. Is Ismael a problem or is Emily? Thanks to the roughshod weather and sparse lighting, an aura of foreboding hovers over every moment in the film. Even when outside, there is a sense of unpredictability from the characters and the elements. 

While part of the tension is the remote setting, most of the apprehension stems from the outstanding performances of the two leads. Julia Goldani Telles gives Emily a surging strength that arises in surprising moments, making her forcefulness inspirational and unnerving. The chemistry between her and Demián Bichir works as their clumsy awkwardness feels natural. Demián Bichir’s character feels sympathetic for a time, doing everything he can to alleviate Emily’s distrust. 

The Mythical Creature Open to Interpretation

Beacon still of Ismael, played by Demián Bichir, staring.
Beacon still. Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.

Despite the glimpses of Emily’s transformation, the reliability of these moments remains unclear. They are from Emily’s viewpoint. But she appears to be on a downward spiral. So, these moments could be a metaphor emphasizing danger’s reversal. In most settings, the women worry about men. However, in Beacon, the aquatic transition signifies the danger from the woman, Emily. So, whether literal or not—although I like to believe it is—the threatening aura shifts from Ismael to Emily. But even in those moments, the film maintains uncertainty, leaving audiences invested and guessing. It’s like, guess who, hot potato. 

Beacon does exemplary work both with direction and writing. Scenes with conflict feel natural, as do the growing suspicions, rather than forced scenarios. Roxy Shih and Julio Rojas work together and wield their talents to craft an overwhelmingly harrowing film using just a remote location and two performers. Beacon is a spellbinding film. It weaves a siren’s call as it creates a maelstrom of tension and unease, never letting it still until the final moments. 

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