Release Date: October 18, 2019
Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, Valeriia Karaman
Synopsis: Mystery enshrouds a tale of two lighthouse keepers whose secrets and sanity are threatened by the haunted isle upon which they tend to keep.
Rating: 3.5/4 Stars
[The following is a spoiler-free review]
The Lighthouse is a film that revels in abstract ambiguity and dreary existentialism. Both in grand and small ways, it not only grips at your immediate attention but it follows you out the theater like a billowing fog. After having seen the film twice, I kept finding myself going back to the dizzying and delirious nature of story-telling and characters on display, as well as the startling images throughout. When it reaches its crests, the film ignites like hot fire, and as it subsides in its troughs, it builds with a most wretched tension even in its lulls. The Lighthouse is nothing short of an excellent and brilliant psychological horror seething with some of the more enigmatic and disturbing imagery in recent memory.
Shot in traditional black and white film, and with equipment from a by-gone era, the film tightens its focus, both figuratively and literally, on the two leads at the center of the story. Tasked to maintain a lighthouse on the New England coast, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) encounter the threat of both interpersonal and personal breakdown while keeping to their harsh duties. Dafoe’s Wake is a curmudgeon of a sea man who reveres the sea and its myths while Pattinson’s Winslow is a straight-laced and by the books kind of man looking to escape the past. Both play their roles with the brash brilliance and rough grit to deeply unsettle and hypnotize all in the same frame.
Much of the suspense and progression of narrative in the film lies in the back and forth banter between theses two men, and lonely moments spent apart in tow bring to surface unsettling madness that stirs and bubbles with uncomfortable pressure. As the two begin to learn of each other, tensions mount as both hold their cards tightly against their chests, attempting to contain the pressure boiling beneath. Mind games begin to run afoul as power exchanges are punctuated with great brutality and eerie incantation, and the story unfolds to oftentimes disorienting breaking points up until its final frame.
Further complimented is its relishing in atmosphere reeking of grime and bile thanks to the meticulous attention and commitment to detail from Eggers and crew. Its 1.19:1 aspect ratio not only narrows the frame of our view and enhances the sense of claustrophobia we see, but it lends to the unrelenting scrutiny and discomfort we gaze into the two troubled men at sea. The choice of black and white film strips away the sense of lively color further giving weight to the cold and deadening feel of the film. And with an emphasis on sound, and a score that seeps with dread, much of the mood persists and does not let up. Not one bit.
I caution ahead to those sea-farers in search of clear harbor. The Lighthouse is a challenging film that is sure to leave you with more questions than answers, and its themes are as thick and murky like the muddied waters at its bay. Mind your bearings and make sure not to spar with a seagull anytime soon, The Lighthouse will swallow you up and spit you right back out like the apathetic sea it is.
The Lighthouse is rated R for sexual content, nudity, violence, disturbing images, and some language.