Runtime: 1 hour 49 minutes
Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, and Valeriia Karaman
A24 vanguard director Robert Eggers follows up his astute historical horror piece The Witch (2015) with another like-genre feature The Lighthouse. Swapping out the desolate New England forest for a desolate New England island, The Lighthouse finds Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in scenery-chewing roles as lighthouse keepers pushed to the ends of their wits. Thomas Wake (Dafoe), supervisor and elder of the two, hordes all of the relaxed lighthouse observation time, leaving the hard, menial work for the young new wickie Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson), whose mysterious past haunts his day to day rounds.
The Lighthouse is a much more accessible beast than The Witch, whose esoteric verisimilitude turned off most casual horror hounds not so much looking for the history lesson. Those that could hang with the latter will likely find the former to be just as meticulous in its setting, and its two-hander play the more engaging tale to follow (though not to knock The Witch). While Dafoe and Pattinson don’t really start playing off each other until later in the film, their naturalistic oddities well-round out the rich, maritime tapestry Eggers has laid out.
Absolutely my favorite thing about The Lighthouse is its way of messing with you. Wake and Winslow are mysterious characters in their own air, both as susceptible to being the other’s prey as they are predator. Who has the proverbial upper hand is on the oscillating whim of spirit highs and lows, brought on by stormy nights and insistent drinking. These kind of stories always involve some big motive or plot reveal. What is it here? Wake warns of ill-fortune to those who harm the aggressive lighthouse seagulls for they house the souls of perished sailors; which obviously means Winslow will defy his superstitious warning at some point. The film urges us to constantly try to catch its angle and just when you think you know where it’s going, the dynamic tides again, before landing on a poetically telegraphed allegory that Greek mythology buffs should be able to call once it shows its head.
The Lighthouse is one of the most essential films of 2019; its delightful, dastardly comedy befitting of a growingly barren content-scape in the wake of studio buyouts. Let yourself be drawn in and tranced away by something different.
Horror Scale: 7.5/10