Directed by: Robert Eggers
Written by: Robert Eggers & Max Eggers
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, Valeriia Karamän, Logan Hawkes
There’s a reason why one of the worst assignments within a prison involves putting someone in isolation. Living with nothing but the thoughts rumbling in our heads can lead us down a dangerous path. Now, add a farting and ridiculous superior to the mix and it results in a deep dive into madness.
Looking for a decent paying job, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) accepts to be stationed to maintain a lighthouse for four weeks under the supervision of Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). Winslow could not be described as a talkative man, while Wake loves to start random conversations. As Winslow tries to make it for the four weeks until he can get off the island, he must contend with Wake’s behavior and a one-eyed gull constantly pestering him.
The idea of this film even existing brings hope of original and absurd cinema still having life in 2019. It has everything that studios want to avoid when creating any feature film. It’s shot in black-and-white, does not have a distinguishable plot, and has Willem Dafoe speaking in some late 19th-century gibberish. Well, it’s here and it delivers on its promises of being psychological horror with a story that leaves much to interpretation.
This descent is put together by director Robert Eggers, who made a name for himself with his feature debut in The Witch or The VVitch, however, one wants it spelled. A film that I didn’t enjoy the first time but have grown an appreciation for on subsequent viewings because Eggers doesn’t make typical horror films. He strives for more atmospheric tension, which all eventually blows up. That informed expectations going into this film and his style works perfectly for this type of story. There’s a tension held back by the characters for the sake of politeness that quickly shatters as the weeks go on. Interpretations of what happens in this film can vary from them being in purgatory to just a bad pairing of two men. It’s able to draw in the audience and not let them leave just as the characters cannot. Much of that has to do with the performances of the two actors.
Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson form a combination the world has always needed. Dafoe brings a type of crabby madness to the role and provides the absurdist humor that’s unsettling while also being informative. It stems from the language, which Eggers has mastered with his first film and now in The Lighthouse. The language and specific words feel like it fits the time while also feeling foreign. Dafoe’s delivery is top-notch and provides tremendous rants. He yells at Pattinson as to why he spills the beans and the rant about the way he cooks lobster becomes endearing while being incredibly funny. Pattinson serves as the straight man in the story that the audience should connect to. He’s just in it for the money and has to endure the behavior of his superior and the horrible conditions of this occupation. The audience follows his descent because Dafoe’s character seemingly already comes from a different world.
The technical elements of the film vastly contribute to the audience being sucked into this horrible adventure. The Lighthouse has stunning cinematography, especially with the framing of each scene. The utilization of its aspect ratio presents a very cramped environment for the characters. It feels like they can’t get around without running into each other. The imaging looks crisp and clearly displays all of the intricate details of each scene. The sound work also plays a part in what makes the experience so unbearable. There’s the constant horn of the lighthouse that almost blends into the background because of how often it blares. The constant rain storm that regularly clashes against the structure never creates a moment of ease for Winslow and it all culminates into him losing his mind.
For this film to work, what these men resort to must be made believable and after experiencing this cacophony of noise and visual splendor, it completely works. Much credit must go to the leads, as they completely go for what their director asks them to do and it contributes to this horrible and sensationally brutal trip to the lighthouse.