Written by Max and Robert Eggers, and directed by Robert Eggers, “The Lighthouse” is the second film directed by Eggers after his horror period-piece debut “The Witch” in 2015. Similarly to his first feature, “The Lighthouse” is also a period piece, though it’s more of an abstract thriller than a straight horror film. Don’t fret if you were hoping for a fright fest, as there’s much to be feared here. Between the eerie imagery, the dialogue that perfectly fits the time period (The 1890’s for this unsettling yarn), and the use of sound throughout- “The Lighthouse” is a totally unique film, but especially among the majority of other offerings currently at the box office. This is a film that is unconcerned with popular trends or any proven box office metrics, and it’s all the better for it.
Not only is the film shot in black and white, on 35mm film no less, but it’s also framed in an aspect ratio of 1.19:1, visually connecting it to cinema’s silent era. Early on the film feels evocative of David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” at times, but with more straightforward storytelling. The first twenty minutes or so have little dialogue, with the constant bellow of the foghorn amidst rummaging machinery that becomes rhythmic as the two “Wickies” settle in, and it isn’t long before you can sense that the air is full of potential for inducing madness. The two men in question are Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson). Wake’s a seasoned veteran of the job, and a near cruel overseer of his new younger apprentice in Winslow. Winslow’s a man of few words, but unfortunately for him Wake loves a good conversation over dinner and this is one of the many grinding conflicts between the two men. As time goes on the film becomes more and more abstract, the imagery evolving towards something more mystical than a simple tale of two men on a jagged rock, beset by torrential rain and crashing waves. This film does what few can even hope to accomplish, it transcends the form and plays with your expectations, it becomes cinema as Myth.
The film is essentially a power struggle between the two Wickies. Wake covers the night shifts- and he rules the light with an iron fist. No matter the standards and rules of their superiors, Winslow is not permitted to tend the bulb. Of course, all of the worst, most back-breaking, work is relegated to the younger Wickie. Slowly, through madness or some other dark art, Winslow’s grasp on reality becomes slippery, and his trust evaporated. I really don’t want to get mired in over-explaining the machinations at work here, but trust me, this is a film you should definitely see in theaters, we need more weird art like this one!
“The Lighthouse” turns in two excellent performances from both actors here. Willem Dafoe swings big in this one; he playfully dawdles with turn of the century English so delightfully that you may be transfixed enough to have forgotten that you’re watching a movie. While Robert Pattinson plays his slow burn descent into insanity with aplomb and a finality that suggests, perhaps, that he’s finally given a performance so engaging and new that no one even will ever again associate his name with those terribly awful Vampire movies- which in itself is a Christmas gift come early. Go see this one, you don’t want to miss it!
Final Score: 2 Keepers of the Light, 1 Seagull