Film Review – The Lighthouse
A24‘s newest haunt, The Lighthouse, is the crustiest two-hander you’re likely to see this year. Full of flatulence and vinegar, it is packed to the gills with dialect that would make Peg-Leg Pete sit and take notice and features a singular bravura performance from one of our greatest living actors. Big laughs, bigger tentacles, Robert Eggers‘ sophomore effort (after 2015’s groundbreaking The VVitch) is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. And let me tell you, folks, I am here for it. You should be too lest Neptune strike ye dead.
A blackened tooth of a buddy comedy, The Lighthouse stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as 19th century lighthouse keepers Thomas Wake and Ephrain Winslow. Ostensibly working a 4-week stint off a coast in dreary Maine, the boys only have each other to lean on. Unless you count the antagonistic seagulls and unrelenting foghorn, of course.
As the more seasoned of the two, Thomas proves himself quite the taskmaster, barking orders and foisting nearly all of the hard labor on the quiet Ephrain only to then belittle him for his efforts. His mood only lightens when he’s drinking, which fortunately for Ephrain is every night.
Visions soon begin to taunt young, horny Ephraim, beginning with the courtship of a beautiful siren and ending in grotesqueness I’d be a tentacled monster to spoil. He questions Thomas’s insistence on manning the light alone. As days turn into weeks, the mens’ paranoia becomes our own. Is Ephrain going stir crazy or are supernatural forces afoot? Will Thomas be able to ration his at-first seemingly endless amount of rum or have to resort to some kerosene-swillin’?
Adding to the movie’s claustrophobic nature is Eggers’ decision to shoot not only in murky black and white but in 1.19:1 aspect ratio. This gives the film a boxy look that makes it nigh impossible not to focus on the nuttiness that unfolds. Co-written with his brother Max Eggers, Robert Eggers has said they studied actual lighthouse keepers’ journals of the time to ensure the dialogue is accurate, lending authenticity and all but guaranteeing you’ll be calling your friends “wicky” until you’re kindly asked to stop.
This sort of attention to detail, which was also employed for the period specifics of The VVitch, set in 1630 New England, is enthralling, especially when compared to the laziness of many contemporary horror films. Word is his next film is a 10th century Viking drama, which certainly tracks. We’re overdue for a folk auteur.
Dafoe gives the performance of a lifetime as craggy Thomas Wake. He relishes this 19th century speak and delivers diatribe after diatribe that will leave you stunned, despite only understanding maybe half the words. Pattinson has the less showy role, but gives Ephraim a sort of vulnerability that allows you to sympathize, even as secrets are spilled and sanity begins to unspool.
In short, The Lighthouse is a hellish delight. Seek out this audacious horror/comedy hybrid and remember not to harm the seagulls. S’bad luck.