Verdict: A sensory overload that sends you spiraling like its characters.
Hollywood has recently hit a new wave of horror filmmaking with incredibly unique films like Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Ari Aster’s Hereditary. Both directors followed up their highly acclaimed films with new praise-worthy horrors this year – Us and Midsommar. Another maverick horror filmmaker Robert Eggers seems to be following suit. Post his appreciated 2015 release The Witch, he is presenting another dark drama with The Lighthouse. Starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, the noir film has made its rounds at film festivals and even bagged the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes.
What’s The Lighthouse About:
Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) is a crusty old sea dog who acts as a lighthouse keeper on a deserted island of jaggedy rocks. Acting as his assistant, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) is bossed around and bullied into taking on back-breaking labor. As Winslow shovels coal, scrubs down their entire quarters, lugs oil up and down the tall stairs, and toils relentlessly, Thomas grows increasingly obsessed with the lighthouse’s beam, which he keeps under lock. Soon the winds change and a storm hits, sending the two marooned men into a downward spiral triggered by frustration and loneliness. They slowly and steadily lose all sense of time and reality.
Telling you a tale of two men on the brink of insanity, The Lighthouse is a hypnotic watch that certainly aims to drive you a little mad too. Writer-director Robert Eggers creates a psychological horror fueled by folklore, language, and a distinct style of visuals. He uses a square-like 1.19:1 aspect ratio for black and white and mostly gray visuals, creating a capsule that’s reminiscent of silent films. Yet, it’s not silent but powered by strong dialogue and a booming score from Mark Korven. The score will consistently unsettle you throughout the film will bouts of blaring foghorns indicating that something is amiss.
Meanwhile, the powerhouse duo of Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe engage in exceptional performances. They display a whole new level of cabin fever as Dafoe’s Thomas grows increasingly hysterical while Pattinson’s Ephraim battles increasing frustration and waves of hallucinatory delusions. It’s through Ephraim’s losing battle with madness that Eggers brings us the film’s most disturbing visuals of sea monsters, sirens, and ferocious seagulls. As the film examines the darkness within both men, we also get bits of comedy through their interactions that don’t just act as a relief in the absurd but also fit into the picture that Eggers is painting. There’s flatulence, quippy comments, outbursts from both men, and plenty of drunken banter that make the tough tide of their looming insanity easy to ride. Much like its characters, The Lighthouse will leave you with a sense of uncertainty about reality. You don’t know whether you’re watching a dark fantasy-horror or a descent into mutual insanity or both.
What Could’ve Been Better:
The Lighthouse presents a cinematic aesthetic unlike what you’ve seen before. With its obscure and graphic subject matter, it calls for analysis and interpretation. It’s the kind of film you won’t fully grasp after a first watch.
Why You Should Watch:
With its hypnotizing noir visuals, claustrophobic aspect ratio, and disconcerting score, The Lighthouse will leave you as rattled as the characters that spiral into insanity. Director Robert Eggers has found a way to unnerve us with another dark drama.