After his debut directing feature The Witch caused such a stir in 2015 everyone wondered how wunderkind Robert Eggers would follow up such a fantastic film. The answer is with a weird and warped journey into insanity set in a lighthouse in the late 19th century.
The stark simple story starts as a two man crew arrive at the isolated island station off the coast of New England to begin there 4 week contract manning and running the lonely lighthouse. The peculiar pair are young Ephraim Winslow played by Robert Pattinson and wizened old wickie Thomas Wake played by the legendary Willem Dafoe.
As his superior Thomas orders Ephraim around tasking him with back breaking work maintaining, cleaning and generally slaving away while Thomas’s only job is to run the lamp. Locking himself in the lamp room at night and banning his assistant from coming anywhere near causes the youngster to become suspicious as to what secrets the old man is harbouring and when Ephraim sneaks up and spies strange sights amongst the light he is even more enthralled.
Obsessed with the sea and its myths and tall tales Thomas is totally at odds to the practical and down to earth Ephraim who just wants to do his job, make his money and live his life. Time passes, monotony sets in and while the men grow more familiar the mystery of the lamp still manages to push them further apart.
When their relief doesn’t seem to arrive the duo face what Thomas calls the most evil thing of all for a sailor, boredom and the only cure available is alcohol. From here the men start a sharp descent into madness and mayhem as time looses all meaning, fantasy and reality start to blend and truths come out leading them both to a chaotic and catastrophic climax.
Shot entirely in black-and-white with a nearly square 1.19:1 aspect ratio Robert Eggers movie which he co-wrote with his brother Max defies definition in many senses. Closest to a psychological horror film it is also a exceptional character study with the two main leads giving powerhouse performances.
After making his name around the world as a tween heart throb in Twilight Robert Pattinson seems to have spent the rest of his career seeking unusual and unconventional roles from David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis to post apocalyptic drama The Rover to strange Sci-Fi High Life.
Although Pattinson’s acceptance of the upcoming umpteenth Batman reboot seems like a step towards the mainstream his role here is anything but as he mumbles, moans and masturbates to small mermaid sculptures all while his grip on reality slowly loosens.
Having worked in the industry since 1980 Willem Dafoe often seems overlooked and under appreciated by Hollywood as one of the great talents however time and again he has proven his mastery of the craft. Creating such a believable character in such a bewildering film is no mean feat yet Dafoe deftly delivers this in The Lighthouse.
Full of farts, superstitions and sea shanties and speaking in old English he shapes Thomas into the archetypal salty sea dog pushing the caricature to an extreme by the end of the movie even making Ephraim doubt his very existence, questioning whether he is just another part of the disturbed youngsters delusions.
A divisive tale that will thrill and terrify some audiences and totally turn off others The Lighthouse should be celebrated not only for the brilliant performances of the leads but as proof that originality in style, story and substance can still survive in this modern multiplex world drowning in shinny superhero movies, award tempting true life tales and sickly sweet romantic comedies.
The Lighthouse is now available on Blu-ray™ and DVD.