“The Lighthouse”- Movie Review
A24 is on a roll. Think about it. Since 2013 they’ve released films such as The Spectacular Now, Spring Breakers, Locke, Tusk, While We’re Young, Ex Machina, Room, Green Room, The Lobster, and 20th Century Women, and that’s just to name a few. For an independent entertainment company, that’s pretty impressive. And with the release of director Robert Eggers’ latest horror venture, its roster continues to shine.
The Lighthouse steps away from the supernatural and instead taps into the fractured catacombs of the human psyche. Set (presumably) in the 1890s, the film tells the story of two men- the quiet Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and the elderly Thomas Wake (William DaFoe)- who are tasked with tending a lighthouse located on a remote island off the New England coast. The job seems simple enough: replenish the fuel, wind the clockworks and keep the light shining. But as the hours turn to days and the days turn into weeks, the isolation begins bearing its crushing weight. Time becomes blurred, the storms outside constantly rage, and secrets from the past and present begin chipping away at the lighthouse keepers’ sanity until all that’s left is pure madness.
I’ve been looking forward to this movie for quite some time. After seeing The Witch back in 2015, I made a mental note to keep an eye out for any projects Eggers had in the works. The guy is an expert filmmaker in my opinion, and a visionary whose bleak, meticulous style compliments the horror genre so well. And if The Witch was the debut of his talents, The Lighthouse should solidify him as one of the best genre filmmakers working today.
Like The Witch, Eggers portrays this story as a period piece through and through. Everything from the clothing, the set design and the thick sailor’s dialect seem accurately reflective of the era depicted. The attention to detail is so precise that each frame feels as though you are looking through a window into another time. Sure, it might not be a time and place you’d want to be a part of, but it’s transportive nonetheless, and that is what any great period piece (or any film to be honest) should do.
The grainy black-and-white cinematography compliments its old-timey feel, and elevates the bleakness of the film’s tone. The 1.19:1 aspect ratio traps you in a cramped, uncomfortable space, making the smallness of the characters’ environment feel all the more claustrophobic. I’ll admit, the framing took some getting used to at first, but by the end of the first act, I’d forgotten all about it. That’s because my focus was deadlocked on Pattinson and DaFoe, who each deliver fantastic performances. They practically melt into their roles, to the point where they’re barely recognizable. They have solid chemistry with one another, and their tumultuous dynamic is the most fascinating aspect of the narrative. As it evolves throughout the course of the film, you begin to realize that this story isn’t simply about going mad on a lonely island. It’s about power. It’s about the struggle among those who expect power to be naturally granted to them, and the level of manipulation and dominance they are willing to inflict on one another in order to obtain that power.
These themes, while not necessarily subtle, aren’t artificially hammered into the narrative. Rather, they’re molded into the imagery, which can get beautifully creepy and hallucinatory at times. As the film descends into madness, it gets harder to tell what the conclusion is going to be. The film keeps you guessing, which I think is a testament to the plot’s unpredictability. This third act guessing game does create a slight pacing issue, making it easier to feel the length of the overall running time. But that’s a minute issue.
Several critics are citing The Lighthouse as a modern masterpiece. Even though I need more time for the film to sink in, it’s hard for me to argue against that claim. This is a masterfully crafted psychological thriller that’s sure to get under your skin and rattle your brain. It’s weird, and weird may not be a lot of people’s cup of tea. But think of it this way- would you rather have something that’s weird but creatively original, or something bland, safe and painstakingly predictable?