Robert Eggers‘ The Lighthouse could’ve easily been perceived a classic film from about a century ago. It isn’t just disturbingly strange and undeniably tense, this original fantasy gothic horror also has some pitch-black comedy blended in. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before – and that in 2020?
Two lighthouse keepers try to maintain their sanity whilst living on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s. What was supposed to be a four week stay, turns into something more surreal when time and space isn’t exactly what it seems anymore, and Thomas Howard (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) flirt with insanity and all kinds of mythical sea creatures. Or are they?
The mysteries pile up while a fog horn can be heard all over the island. But while Howard is rather new to the job, Wake isn’t exactly telling him everything he knows when taking care of “the light” at night. What should have been an easy job, has now become something much more complex in which boundaries are being pushed between two men who are keeping all kinds of secrets, and playing a dangerous game of dominant versus submissive. Director Eggers (The Witch) has masterfully crafted something distinctively peculiar that lures you in like a siren ready to seduce and kill you. Going in blind, is the best way to experience The Lighthouse, but nothing can prepare you for the ingenious work that has been put into this folk tale brought to the big screen.
So odd it becomes hilarious and disconcerting. The choice to film in black and white, makes A24’s newest film in their catalogue, one for the ages. Nothing that has been made (even in black and white) comes close to what Eggers has skilfully achieved here. Together with his cinematographer Jarin Blaschke (who just received an Oscar nomination for his work on this film) and composer Mark Korven, they’ve designed something that only lives in books – old books. Bringing it alive in the most sonically and unconventionally cursed way, is almost poetic. Especially when Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate) constantly speaks in riddles and old marine terms with an accent almost in need of subtitles. Dafoe acts like his life depends on it, going total-loss and disappearing in someone so shamelessly repulsive and reticent, delivering his lines in one breath, sucking you into his powerful presence on screen.
Pattinson (High Life), while very well known as someone who started his career in the blockbuster box office phenomenon The Twilight Saga, once again proves he is more than capable of standing his own next to a remarkable actor such as Dafoe. Their dynamic is out-of-this-world perfection. Pattinson’s Howard, being the most enigmatic character in the film, runs from constant reminders of what exactly occurred before arriving on the island. With nowhere to go but the rough saltwater waves that surround the obscure island and its soul-stirring towering lighthouse that compels whoever faces its rotating soul, the cliffs towards the depths of madness seem closer than ever.
When it comes to the production design and how the director and crew use the surroundings and its shadows to frame an extra dimension, they’ve created this gritty eeriness in which everything just falls into the right place to keep you interested in observing the lighthouse keepers’ every move. Nothing is what it seems and The Lighthouse will linger far longer in your mind than you might anticipate. Without a doubt, this is a film that will divide audiences. A creatively cursed fable that’s not only memorable, but especially flawless when it comes to conjuring something as unusual and mesmerising as Egger’s newest film.
Review – ‘The Lighthouse’
Reviewed at Universal Pictures, Sydney, Jan. 28, 2020. Australian Classification: MA15+. Running time: 109 min.
PRODUCTION: A Universal Pictures release of an A24, New Regency Pictures, RT Features production. Producers: Robert Eggers, Youree Henley, Lourenço Sant’ Anna, Rodrigo Teixeira, Jay Van Hoy. Executive producers: Chris Columbus, Eleanor Columbus, Sophie Mas, Arnon Milchan, Yariv Milchan, Caito Ortiz, Josh Peters, Michael Schaefer, Alan Terpins.
CREW: Director: Robert Eggers. Screenplay: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers. Camera: Jarin Blaschke. Editor: Louise Ford. Music: Mark Korven.
WITH: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe, Valeriia Karaman, Logan Hawkes.