October 16, 2019 The Lighthouse (Movie Review)
One of the most anticipated Thrillers of 2019, Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse has garnered critical acclaim since debuting at the Cannes Film Festival this past May, and now it hits theaters on Friday, October 18th thanks to A24 Films.
The story focuses on two lighthouse keepers, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe: Mississippi Burning 1988, Spider-Man 2001) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson: Twilight series, High Life 2018) who struggle to stay sane amidst the isolation and resentment of their jobs. Wake, the elder and boss, is a long time keeper, and Winslow is the new arrival replacing the previous and deceased keeper for 4 weeks.
Wake is a grumbling, ill-mannered older man who is a harsh taskmaster. He speaks in a gruff sea captain’s accent peppered with maritime idioms amid tall tales of adventures at sea. Winslow does his best to deal with Wake, but the old man’s lack of respect for his new underling and constant pomposity gnaw at the young man from the start. He sets about his work begrudgingly and is relieved when he does not have to deal with his boss.
The work is hard. Manual labor tasks like clearing out the cistern, shingling roofs, and shoveling coal are Winslow’s days. The ground on the small island is rocky and uneven, making simple things like moving the wheelbarrow over it an exercise in frustration. It’s another notch in the ever growing belt of resentment Winslow wears as the story continues. Wake sleeps by day and works the overnight atop the lighthouse, which becomes an object of fascination and, eventually, obsession to Winslow, who becomes convinced that Wake is hiding some terrible secret in it.
What starts out as a simple setup begins to turn into a surreal, reality-bending experience when Winslow begins a feud with a bothersome seagull that hampers his work and wakes him at night. They, according to Wake, are the souls of sailors who died at sea and it is bad luck to meddle with them. Winslow begins to have strange dreams, they both slide further into drunken stupors, and between intoxicated bouts of bonding and sharing stories of their pasts, it is clear they cannot stand each other. The audience knows one of them will crack, but who?
Debuting in 2015 with The Witch, one of the best received Horror films of that year, Eggers’ follow-up further showcases his keen talent behind the camera, as well as his ability to use tools like sound design and lighting to create an experience viewers will find impossible not to be drawn into. Additionally, the performances of the film’s two leading actors – Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe – are towering and will certainly attract attention for Oscar season next Spring.
That all said, everything about The Lighthouse is crafted with an expert hand. The lighting and sound effects further emphasize the bleak island and its deep gloom despite the film being black and white. Dilapidated buildings, old, creaky equipment, and the rain and waves punishing the island and its two inhabitants are all incredibly immersive. Eggers’ aforementioned debut, The Witch, had many of the same qualities when it comes to setting. In that film, the audience can feel themselves in colonial New England, and here the island likewise feels real, which is an interesting contrast to the uncertainty of what the two men are experiencing as the story progresses. The camerawork is excellent, from the long wide shots of the island to the closeups of the terrain and the tight scenes of the men indoors all convey the mood perfectly. It really is a technical film-making showcase.
Then there are the performances, which are the best things about the film. Dafoe plays his character like a stereotype of a mariner out of a Melville novel, but it works well against the film’s true star Pattinson. Pattinson is a has a large resume and has come a long way from the days of Twilight and Harry Potter. He’s had a string of well received performances lately but this one will put him on the map as one of the most talented actors of his generation. Wilson is a complex character that goes through a lot, and Pattinson nails the physical intensity of his arc perfectly. There are later moments of pure eye-bulging madness that would be comical in most other contexts but Pattinson makes them scary as can be.
The only thing that may put audiences off to The Lighthouse is the surreal nature of the storytelling. This style does not offer satisfaction in the normal narrative sense and it will no doubt turn some off, but the performances alone are worth your time. Overall, The Lighthouse is an outstanding piece of film-making and acting, and for that Cryptic Rock gives it 4 out of 5 stars.