Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattison
Review Author: Tony
I have never experienced such delight at on-screen misery as I have with Robert Egger’s masterpiece, The Lighthouse. Masterpiece is a word I seldom use when it comes to film criticism, but art is subjective and my subjective opinion is that The Lighthouse fucking rocks. Robert Eggers debut, The Witch, had all eyes on him and his next project, so it delighted me to hear his next project was another horror movie.
Set off the isolated coast somewhere in New England during the late 19th Century, a young contractor, Ephraim, arrives by boat to work under the supervision of a gruff and superstitious light keeper named Thomas. Thomas is judgmental and demanding of Ephraim, who prefers to keep to himself. As time passes by, the desolation and irrational Thomas weighs on Ephraim’s psyche as he experiences hallucinations and witnesses strange behaviour from the wickie. Eventually they bond and drink together, but when supplies run short and only the drink remains, they begin to unravel in this harsh environment.
The aesthetic Eggers’ conjures is dank, miserable, lonely, desolate, and maddening. This rock of land is no brave new world or land of opportunity, but rather the physical embodiment of hard labour and isolation. Even solitude is non-existent with the ever present noise of waves crashing on rocks and seagulls screeching. The film is shot in a grainy black-and-white that harkens back to the German expressionist horror of the early 20th century. The aspect ratio is ever changing but always too narrow for comfort, lending to a claustrophobic and disorientating setting. The camerawork, cinematography and sound design work beautifully in conjunction to create this inescapable purgatory for our two key characters.
The two major characters, Ephraim and Thomas, are the sole focus of the film. They aren’t merely pawns in an overarching narrative, but rather the centre of it. Their virulent relationship is the catalyst of their trials and tribulations. Initial encounters between the two are prickly as Thomas is overbearing and Ephraim shows little care in being cordial in their off time, but as they reveal more of their true selves leads to a rollercoaster of events from true comaraderie to vicious spats. Pattinson and Dafoe are a sight to behold as each actor flexes their acting ability in a script that lets them loose.
Whereas The Witch was one of the darkest and more disturbing horror films of recent memory, The Lighthouse relies more on a sense of encroaching doom, a hidden evil that is amplified in the central character’s nature. There is plenty of surreal and macabre imagery and sudden flashes of violence, but the horror elements are more subtle. Most unexpected is how funny the film is. While the film is not as outright camp, I couldn’t help comparing it to Evil Dead 2 in the humourous spectacle of men losing their minds.
The Lighthouse is a wonderful mishmash of surreal imagery, mystery, fragile masculinity, and psychological horror. Similar to The Witch, Eggers uses folk horror for his narrative and recreates a specific period with time accurate dialogue and speech patterns as well as utilizing clever filmmaking techniques to recreate an early 20th century 35 mm look. Pattinson and Dafoe give two career best performances, delving into lunacy, camaraderie, frustration, and theatrics as two men crumbling under the weight of their predicament. Eggers delivers a nightmarish tale sprinkled with bleak humour and mythical metaphors.
Rating: 5 / 5 Spilled Beans