Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Robert Pattinson & Willem Dafoe
Cinematographer: Jarin Blaschke
On a remote New England island, two lighthouse keepers struggle with their descent to madness as they battle against each other’s presence. Robert Eggers, director of The VVitch, returns with this psychological horror that, at times, leaves more questions than answers. But this hypnotic feature deliberately presents terrifying imagery that shows the physical and mental torture of the island’s guests – making their time secluded from all of humanity that much more horrifying.
The Lighthouse is what many would consider a slow burn, but there are plenty of moments to keep your attention. Early on, lighthouse keepers Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson, High Life) quickly take a strong disliking towards one another. Wake is the strange, old drunk with a superstitious mindset. Ephraim, from his own perspective, is a clear-headed man with life goals. Complete opposites. When forced to make due with their situation, there’s bicker and banter – a duel of masculinity capable of generating many laughs. And Dafoe & Pattinson play off of each other’s energy with ease. But make no mistake, this is Robert Pattinson’s show, though Dafoe is a delight as usual. Together, their characters’ interactions are fascinating because of their contrasting dispositions, but it makes for a tantalizing watch.
The exceptional part of Eggers’ feature is the black and white coloring and its brilliant bleak setting. At certain points in the film, fans of Alfred Hitchcock may see similarities between The Birds and The Lighthouse. And here, Eggers’ pushes it a step forward to eliminate aspects of today’s filmmaking. Reunited with cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, the two set out to create a gorgeous old-school aesthetic. And they’ve succeeded.
As Ephraim becomes accustomed to the ways of the island, things slowly get out of his mental reach. Occurrences like being at odds with a seagull, seeing a mermaid wash up on shore and visualizing other disturbing nightmares blur the line between reality and imagination. But these are the moments when the film excels, and audiences can expect plenty of surprises along the way. There’s even a certain level of ominous delight lurking around the island after a certain event leads Ephraim to a state of paranoia. And this is captured so elegantly with frequent fades to black and background imagery that could leave audiences as confused as the characters experiencing them.
Shot on black and white 35mm film, Eggers’ feature never loses its mysterious yet vibrant atmosphere. Rather, it is the dialogue that’s the weakest factor. At times, the heavy discourse between Wake and Winslow are padded with elegant monologues as they share their life experiences. However, they never seem to lead anywhere or serve a purpose. Additionally, there’s a tonal imbalance because the script fluctuates between different genres as the characters learn more about each other and their circumstances. But on the upside, it’s hard to care about this considering everything else is just so daunting; but it is certainly noticeable. You just have to ask yourself if it ruins the entire experience.
…Because that’s exactly what Eggers’ The Lighthouse is – an experience, a phenomenon. It’s a study of how our greatest nightmares can lead to obsession. It shows how our obsessions can haunt us to the point of no cognitive return. And if left to linger, well… The fallout could be deadly.
The Lighthouse is in theaters now.