It is New England in the 1890’s. Two lighthouse maintenance officers, Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Dafoe) arrive on a remote island for a month long secondment which turns quickly into a nightmarish haunted and very wet situation. Their tenuous grip on reality slips away slowly in what I can only describe as one of the most brilliant and gripping horrors I have seen in a decade.
It is explosively scary and captivatingly beautiful in cinematographer Jarin Blaschke’s fierce monochrome, like a daguerreotype of fear. And the performances from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson have a sledgehammer punch – Pattinson, in particular, just gets better and better. Guardian
Director Robbert Eggers (The Witch) has created something beautiful and maniacal here, deliberately intending to nauseate the audience. This film was shot in a nearly square 1:19:1 aspect ratio, and monochrome, which immediately throws one off. To add to this, most of the scenes are insular and claustrophobic. Their intensity increases incrementally which only adds to the excellence. Their roles are established quickly; Wake plays the stern weathered superior whose duty is to care for the prater Promethean light atop the lighthouse, whose enclosure Winslow is not allowed to enter. Winslow in the other hand is a ‘wickie’, a lower ranking officer who does all the menial tasks, including purifying the water and fending off rude seagulls.
The Lighthouse is itself a tall tale, the kind sailors might have once told over a frothy tankard of ale with a faraway look in their eyes. It is a folk tale deeply rooted in that tradition, soaked to the salty skin with superstition and sinister iconography. And yet… The Lighthouse is an altogether taller tale than most. There are plenty of moments where you’ll have no bloody idea what you’re watching. Other times it feels like an endurance test — like you’ve been stranded on an island in a storm with little chance of rescue. But surrender yourself to its strangeness and you might also find some enchantment in its light. Empire
The development of each character is masterfully portrayed, keeping one on the edge of an ever present precipice. The cinematography is bordering on art, with shots presented bluntly, without needing to resort to descriptive narrative or even words at times. My personal highlight of this movie was the scene where both Wake is talking down to a drunk Winslow, some time after a ship was supposed to come and pick them up for their next assignment. Of course, Winslow decided to beat a seagull to death, and seagulls contain the souls of dead sailors who revolted and created a storm so violent that no ship could reach them. The intensity of the scene and the way the camera looks up at Wake as he is berating Winslow gives us a really stunning perspective on both protagonists but also of the mastery of Dafoe’s acting capacity.
Dafoe’s mercurial movements, his rippling face and spooky smiles, dovetail beautifully, articulating Wake’s moods and adding to the destabilisation. He barks orders, sings a shanty, indulges in sentimentality and turns his yowling mouth into an abyss. NY Times
Overall this film scores a perfect ten for me. This is as much an inner as an outer horror. The direction, acting, cinematography, production and concept were all astonishing and tied together beautifully. The Lighthouse portrays the limits to which the isolated mind can be pushed, and the effects on those who go beyond those limits, making it a perfect film for our isolated times.
How long have we been in lockdown? Five weeks? Two days? Help me to recollect.