Robert Eggers’ follow-up to 2015’s The VVitch is a mind-bending mesh of chaos, insanity and broken masculinity. Starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as two lighthouse keepers who are stranded on the island after a storm hits, The Lighthouse shows the men’s mentality break and crumble in a fashion never before seen on film. Co-written by Eggers and his brother Max Eggers and inspired by the unfinished short story “The Light-House” by Edgar Allan Poe, The Lighthouse is a brilliant look into madness and mayhem from the outset as the protagonists drink themselves into oblivion when a storm hits. Distributed by the illustrious A24, the film has become instantly iconic for it’s beautiful cinematography, brilliant screenplay and magnetic performances. It is a film that commands attention from the outset and despite it’s simple plot, it is sublimely complex and groundbreaking. Eggers has proven yet again that he is a filmmaker to watch. More like his contemporary Ari Aster (Hereditary and Midsommar), Eggers is bringing a new perspective on the horror genre. His films are not afraid to be gory and disgusting in a different way while also bringing in dark humour and aspects of magic realism. Incorporating sea folk such as mermaids and sea monsters in a space where they are clearly fantasy to begin with but slowly slip into the reality and getting to the point where their existence could be argued.
Robert Pattinson proves that he is on a promising streak of strong performances following his stellar turn in Claire Denis’ erotic sci-fi High Life (you can read my review here). Pattinson plays Ephraim Winslow, a newbie to the lighthouse keeping game who is put to strenuous tasks by the elder Thomas Wake. When he finds a mermaid ornament hidden in his mattress, Winslow becomes fascinated by the eroticism that the sea has and becomes sexually obsessed to the point where his fantasies and realities collide. Even he doesn’t know what is real by the end of the film. The events in the film act as an awakening for Winslow as well as proving to be his demise. He’s a character who never feels settled and is clearly out of place in the job. His inability to understand why what they do is important and Wake’s reluctance to allow him to see the light actually prove to be motivators for Winslow as he doesn’t allow the job to overwhelm him. Pattinson’s character is manic, quiet and calculating at the same time and I think this film is solid proof of how far he has come from his Twilight days. Considering he found fame in a mainstream franchise and will be starring as the titular character in the new Batman film, I think starring in indie films like The Lighthouse shows Pattinson’s passion and his desire for good characterisation and artistic growth.
Willem Dafoe gives a flawless performance as is expected. Undoubtedly one of the best working actors today, Dafoe’s portrayal of the elderly Thomas Wake is a revelation. He is boisterous and unafraid to stand his ground, having no trouble delegating all the hard work to his companion. At the same time, there are many moments when Wake will change his stories and claim that the stories haven’t changed at all. It’s a role that requires fearlessness which is something that Dafoe has in spades. Known for his controversial roles and ability to play any character to perfection, Dafoe manages to reach yet another career best which is amazing considering the performances he has pulled off the past few years, particularly his turn in The Florida Project. What differs with his performance in The Lighthouse, however, is that this role feels more fantastical and removed to how we usually see Dafoe and the result is immense. I firmly believe that he was deserving of Supporting Actor nominations through awards season but it wasn’t to be as The Lighthouse was shut out from most categories. I think what Dafoe does brilliantly is challenging himself and showing time and time again just how much range he has as a performer. Wake is a despicable man who takes advantage of his protegee and yet he is captivating, incomprehensible and misunderstood.
The score by Mark Korven marks his second collaboration with Eggers after providing the eerily fantastic music for The VVitch. Created in a similar vein to the aforementioned, the score for The Lighthouse is clearly inspired by old maritime songs and merged with traditional horror tones. The result is a suspense filled mesh of mayhem that stands out clearly against the black and white backdrop of the film. It feels timeless and yet not suited for any time with its standoffish tone. There are many jarring string pieces that are like the tempting siren but then contrasting with the stormy surrounding and building tension as the relationship between the protagonists becomes more unbearable. Looking back, this has been a fantastic year for movie scores and even among all the best soundtracks, The Lighthouse proves to be equally simple yet effective, heightening the viewing experience.
I think this is a film that has the potential to go down as a horror classic. It feels experimental and brave, pushing the boundaries on film-making through the use of its contrast between simplicity and complexity. It’s a horror in many ways from its gore to its mental abusive nature and the inability to trust in its lonely characters makes it a nail-biting experience. I think it’s a real shame this was locked out of almost all categories but glad that Jarin Blaschke was recognised for his phenomenal cinematography. The Lighthouse has proven to be a marmite film among film lovers but it is a deeply rewarding experience and the vision is executed beautifully. It’s a film that I look forward to viewing again and again as I think I’ll notice even more elements that I admire. It makes me keen to see where Eggers’ career will take him next and eager to see if he continues with his great collaborations.
What did you think of The Lighthouse? Let me know in the comments below!