THE LIGHTHOUSE is the latest masterpiece from co-writer/director Robert Eggers (The Witch) which centers on two lighthouse keepers and their descent into madness. The film stars Willem Dafoe (Shadow of the Vampire, The Florida Project), Robert Pattinson (High Life, Good Time), and Valeriia Karaman, in her debut role. To best describe the film, which let’s be honest, isn’t the easiest film to describe, I’ll turn to the official synopsis: “[The Lighthouse] is a hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.”
The film shot beautifully in black and white, begins as two men, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), arrive at a remote island to relieve two other men of their post manning a lighthouse. Thomas is a “wickie”, the main person responsible for tending the lighthouse, and has no problem asserting his dominance over his assistant, Ephraim. Meanwhile, Ephraim is tasked with doing all the grunt work and physical labor required to keep the lighthouse operating smoothly. Thomas lets Ephraim know early on that he is the only person who is allowed to tend the light and lens, an issue that begins to cause resentment in Ephraim. As the film progresses, both hatred and a comradery form between the two men, especially when a severe storm hits the island. As secrets start to spew forth, the resulting consequences find the two men spiraling down into insanity.
What a time to be alive – to have films directed by such a visionary filmmaker as Robert Eggers. As I’ve told many people prior to seeing THE LIGHTHOUSE, I felt like this movie was going to 100% be my shit and I’m happy to report that it absolutely was. Bizarre, comical, and horrifying, Eggers has created a film that is not only a work of art, but one that taps into a time period most have forgotten. Having been obsessed with his first feature film, The Witch, I wasn’t sure if his sophomore film would have that same spark, but after seeing it, it just goes to show that I should never question the skill-set and talent that Eggers possesses.
First and foremost, the movie looks gorgeous. Shot in black and white on 35mm with an aspect ratio of 1.19:1, the film feels claustrophobic and cold. The way in which light and shadows play off the actor’s face, highlighting their emotions through their eyes, is truly breathtaking. Furthermore, the fact that Eggers had all the buildings constructed for the film, including the 70′ lighthouse, is truly impressive. One of my favorite features of the film, however, was the use of a foghorn, which was incredibly jarring and foreboding, fitting perfectly with the tone and atmosphere that the film wanted to convey.
All that said, what really drove the movie were the performances from Pattinson and Dafoe. To all those people saying Pattinson shouldn’t be the new Batman due to his role as Edward Cullen in the Twilight series, you are about to eat your own words. Pattinson’s performance is transformative and mesmerizing. Watching him become so unhinged was fascinating since it starts off subtle before reaching a crescendo of insanity. I also enjoyed seeing how his storyline unfolded as it felt almost like a bait and switch in the sense that I felt wrong for initially rooting for him. Meanwhile, Dafoe is a god damn delight as a crotchety old lightkeeper who refuses to back down or conform to Pattinson’s request, which, to be fair, in the beginning, was really reasonable. Dafoe also encompasses a dialogue that is very much of a fisherman during the late 1800s. There were moments that made it hard to understand what he was saying, especially during his exquisite monologues, but honestly, that didn’t deter my love of the film. On top of that, his comedic timing was top-notch even when one would think those moments shouldn’t be funny.
I also need to mention just how brilliant both Pattinson and Dafoe’s physical performances were. Whether it was doing manual labor through a torrential downpour on rocky terrain or having one’s mouth covered in actual dirt, both these actors went full throttle regardless of what was thrown their way. There is also a moment, in particular, which features a seagull that is both shocking and ferocious but have no fear, it’s a rubber seagull as no seagulls were harmed in the making of this film. That said, the practical effects were astonishing from the set to the more fantastical elements such as the ungodly tentacles that conjure up Lovecraftian vibes. It’s important to note that I’m intentionally being vague because a review of THE LIGHTHOUSE won’t do the film justice as I truly believe it’s an experience that each person needs to have in order to truly understand the film.
Overall, if you couldn’t already tell, I absolutely loved THE LIGHTHOUSE and feel it’s another masterpiece for Eggers. The story, to some, may seem wacky and off-putting, but for me, it seemed completely in-line with the time period and old-tyme legends that many New England sailors and fishermen spoke of. If anything, you should see this movie for the Oscar-worthy performances by Pattinson and Dafoe as well as the magnificent cinematography by Jarin Blaschke. In all, THE LIGHTHOUSE is a grandiose work of art that is as haunting as it is funny. THE LIGHTHOUSE is now available to own on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital and includes special features such as Audio Commentary with Co-Writer & Director Robert Eggers, deleted scenes, and “The Lighthouse: A Dark & Stormy Tale” featurette.