A devious and creepy psychological film in the horror/thriller genre has made its way into cinemas in the form of Robert Eggers’s second feature, “The Lighthouse.” His first film “The Witch” was a masterpiece of tone and tension and staked its claim as one of the finest horror films of the past twenty-five years.
Now comes Eggers’s latest film, one that is sure to shock, enthrall, and completely divide all who dare watch it.
Written by Robert and Max Eggers, this is a film that methodically cuts through dark and psychologically-intense horror. Completely sidestepping conventions, Eggers never lets the audience in on where the film is going as he creates an unsettling visual terror that is absolutely unforgettable.
Shot on 35mm black-and-white film (brilliant work from cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, by the way) and presented in a movietone aspect ratio (1.19:1), the “Lighthouse” follows a crusty and sea-worn lighthouse keeper, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and his apprentice Ephriam Winslow (Robert Pattinson). They are stationed on a remote and rainy New England island. It is sometimes in the 1890s.
Grizzled, grimy and by-the-book, Wake is keen on running a tight ship and is ruthless in his treatment of young Winslow. Wake won’t let him near the lighthouse beam and gives Winslow all of the hard and disgusting work such as fixing the roof and cleaning out the grossly-neglected bedpans.
Winslow is fatefully overcome by unhealthy and dangerous obsessions. He wants to know what Wake is hiding by shutting him out of the lighthouse. As he goes up the winding stairwell to sneak a look at what Wake is up to, Winslow sees glimpses of something possibly threatening to their sanity and, perhaps, their very lives.
Winslow is also obsessed with masturbatory fantasies of a creepy mermaid that he may or may not have encountered, who lays on the waves-licked rocks surrounding the island. The visions of Winslow’s self-flagellating, by way of pleasuring himself to the mermaid’s struggling body, is as unsettling a scene as can be. And that’s far from the most disturbing moment in this twisted film that expertly balances the tricks of the mind and the reality of palpable terror.
The dangers seem to come from the lantern that sits atop the lighthouse, which represents a darkly spiritual (but far from holy!) symbol of fate. The light and the lighthouse have become corrupted by Wake’s desire to keep its secrets to himself. Winslow’s misguided curiosity soon turns to jealousy, as he wants to experience (good or bad) the mysteries of the lighthouse. These quests for truth hurl the two broken men into a grey and violent hell.
Willem Dafoe hasn’t been this excellent in some time. He is usually great but his Thomas Wake is one of his most notable turns of late. The actor is a primal thunderstorm here as he digs into this role completely, until Willem Dafoe disappears. With his full beard, pipe, and wild eyes, he makes Thomas Wake a drunken and dangerous man who just may hold the secret to unlocking the otherworldly mystery of the lighthouse.
Robert Pattinson plays off of Dafoe’s Wake brilliantly. We see the bubbling madness on his face as he becomes a slave not only to Wake but to the “forces” that seem to be connected to the island. With each new film he appears in, Robert Pattinson continues to prove his talent and versatility. I look forward to watching his career progress.
Robert Eggers directed this film with the precision of a surgeon and surrounded himself with a brilliant crew doing Oscar-worthy work.
Damian Volpe’s gripping and disturbing sound design kept me in a constant state of fear as Jarin Blaschke’s incredibly terrifying imagery burns itself into the soul. Like the film or not, you shall never shake these images.
Rarely have I experienced a film as enthralling as “The Lighthouse.” Robert Eggers has made the kind of film that British filmmaker Nicolas Roeg (“Don’t look now”) used to be successful at creating. The screenplay is meant to confuse us and causes us to question whether what we are seeing is real or the work of a madness being presented to us.
“The lighthouse” is a dark and dead-serious work of art. A psychological horror film that exists as a mind-bending challenge and a frightening treat for the eyes.
Full of an inescapable dread and maddening isolation, it is one of the best, and definitely the most unique, films of 2019.