In his follow-up to the warmly-received The Witch, director Robert Eggers creates a new film with just as haunting visuals and ideas of identity.
Put simply, The Lighthouse is a masterpiece.
Like The Witch, The Lighthouse takes place in distant New England. While the former involves a horrifying, looming forest in the 17th century, the latter is set on a small island where a lighthouse resides in the 19th century.
On this island arrive, two men, the younger Ephraim Winslow (played by Robert Pattinson), and the older Thomas Wake (played by Willem Dafoe). Except we do not know their names for a large section of the movie, highlighting the ominous world this film takes place in.
Winslow arrives as a wickie, the assistant lighthouse keeper to Wake. Winslow is quiet, a tad timid, and seems solely focused on completing his four-week job and being paid.
His tasks are mundane, unpleasant, or downright miserable, and he has to deal with his only companion being an irritable old man farting, barking orders, and barring him from ascending the stairs to the top of the lighthouse.
First and foremost, the cinematography in this film is superb. What Eggers chooses to show and not show, and when, is so important to this film and horror movies in general.
In one scene, Winslow sees something out in the water, and starts to approach, walking on the beach. Though he has not reached the water yet, we know he is approaching it, and the constant reversal of the camera from Winslow’s face to the water is a masterful technique.
Though he was on land at every preceding shot, suddenly Winslow’s face is beneath the water. This adds to the feeling of dread laced throughout this film, and how nothing is as it seems.
The Lighthouse is shot completely in black and white, and it works wonders for the film. With much of the film taking place at night, and the light from the mysterious lighthouse illuminating much of what we see, light represents truth and understanding, two things that both characters don’t seem to be comfortable with.
Though Wake tells him not to “spill his beans,” Winslow reveals at one point how his real name is also Thomas, Thomas Howard, and he took the name (Winslow) of a man at his old job who died in an accident he could have helped prevent. Wake also has a past that is questionable. He tells Winslow (Howard) his old assistant went mad and killed himself, but Winslow does not seem fully convinced.
Both men, young and old, only start sharing their lives with one another when the bottles of liquor come out, and as the days go by, the storm rages on, and their boat to relieve them from their post doesn’t come, the drinking only intensifies.
And as the characters turn to the bottle more and more, everything becomes less clear. What is real, what is not? And most specifically, what on earth is the deal with the actual light from the lighthouse?
The performances both actors give are incredible. Dafoe has been in a plethora of films over the years, and his performance here does not disappoint. For Pattinson, this film encapsulates his full pivot from his earlier days in the Twilight saga. The new Batman star is just that, a star, and he does not crumble under the weight of Dafoe’s shadow; he rises above it.
The film layers themes and leaves much ambiguous for the audience to think for themselves.
But the horror elements are taken with such care that Eggers has to be revered as one of the best horror auteurs out right now. Whether you’re a horror movie fan, film buff, or just a fan of Pattinson, go check this movie out.
You will never be able to think about mermaids the same way after.