The Lighthouse sees Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson play two New England lighthouse keepers who slowly descend into madness in this unsettling pic from Robert Eggers (The Witch). Playing in limited release from February 20, Aaron Yap labels the film “an unmistakably singular experience that offers little by way of cosy viewing”.
One-upping the punishing puritanical horrors of his breakthrough debut feature The Witch, Robert Eggers plunges us into another remote, blood-curdling patch of period New England for the hypnotically perplexing The Lighthouse.
Drawing inspiration from a range of sources—a real-life 19th century incident in Wales, the Prometheus myth, German expressionist cinema—this monochrome melange of cabin-fever madness and maritime folklore, in which two “wickies” (Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson) tend to a dilapidated lighthouse on the storm-swept coast of Maine, is a compelling double-down of Eggers’ strengthening directorial acumen.
The location atmosphere is thick, anxious, pregnant with foreboding. The ocean undulates in the distance, threatening to devour the protagonists whole like some abyssal Lovecraftian gut. The stench of flatulence and boozy bodily fluid fill every damp crevasse of their creaky quarters. As the clockwork drudgery grows increasingly absurd in its endlessness, the glowing, omniscient lamp they’re toiling to keep running becomes an inexplicable vortex of arcane mystery, enchantment and discontent.
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The Lighthouse is immaculately engineered nightmare fuel—a tenebrous excavation of the mind and soul, with each moment more delirious than the next. Jarin Blaschke’s Maddin-esque old-timey cinematography, most noteworthy for its boxed-in aspect ratio and authentically textured ashen palette, is a transporting—albeit terrifying—thing of beauty. Augmenting the dread is Mark Korven’s score, portentously charged with blaring foghorns and pulsating with jolting, dissonant noises.
All of which to say, of course, Eggers’ film is an unmistakably singular experience that offers little by way of cosy viewing. It can be, however, riotously funny in spurts, particularly when Dafoe’s barking Captain Ahab-wannabe and Pattinson’s pliant lumberjack drifter begin trading blows. Their combustible, bug-eyed chemistry, ambiguous enough in its master/apprentice/father/son/dom/sub dynamic to invite multiple readings, suggests The Lighthouse is, at its squirmy core, one of the most uniquely deranged buddy movies to come out in quite some time.