by Kevin Muller
When writer and director Robert Eggers burst on to the scene with 2016’s The Witch, he gave us a true New England horror tale. What he succeeded in doing was creating an immersive experience for the viewers. A majority of the time, when films are set in a different time periods, the accents are shoddy, the cinematography too clean, or the actors can’t nail the true essence of the characters. Eggers nailed all three of those aspects and much more. For his next feature, he has given us a movie, that takes place at the end of the 19th century, located in New England, with his two actors speaking in thick New England accents. Does he go two for two, or was his first effort a fluke?
Winslow, played by Robert Pattison, has been sent on assignment to a lighthouse, where he must keep up the establishment. The winds are harsh, rain unforgiving, and the sound of the lighthouse horn can be heard consistently throughout the film. Plus, he is working underneath a mad man named Wake, is a career best performance by Willem Dafoe. Wake is speaks in almost unintelligible mumbles, is a drunk, randomly farts, and has bi-polar tendencies. Winslow and Wake are usually at odds, except when there is alcohol involved, which settles both the feelings of isolation and anxiety in the two men. Winslow just wants to do his two weeks, get paid, and leave this forsaken island. That is until he sees Wake dancing naked behind the locked part of the lighthouse. It then becomes an obsession to find out what is going on in there, especially when he starts to see visions all around him.
This film is strictly an art-house film. The entirety of it is shot in black and white and contains a different aspect ratio than most Hollywood movies. For those of you who aren’t familiar with that technical jargon, all it means is that the entire film has two black bars on the side of the screen. This works for Eggers desire to make his audience feel Claustrophia that his two characters are experiencing. Dafoe and Pattison are the only ones on screen for 99% of the film. The lighthouse, which was built for the film, is as basic as it looks, but its interior is the definition of close quarters. These make all the emotions that the men go through far more intense. Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, who joins Eggers for a second time, also contributes to the tense nature of each scene. The camera is always right in the faces of the two leading men, capturing their each and every moment of their individual, and duel, performances. Major points should be also given to the sound production team who add to the underlying tension with the rain, wind, and horn, all contributing to the madness. Eggers has put together a film that is a technical marvel. It may not seem that important, but it adds a lot to the director’s grand vision of the film.
Smaller films like this always require actors who are at the top of their game. If they don’t work individually, or together, the film would crumble underneath its own weight. Luckily, for Eggers and the audience, the two actors give their all to these roles. Pattinson, who has just been selected to be the next Batman, continues to impress with each role he chooses post Twilight. Winslow’s descent into madness is perfectly captured by the actor. The film has many moments where both actors must communicate their thoughts and feelings through looks. Pattinson is quite an expressive actor who can really act through his eyes. It is a performance that shows his choice of choosing challenging roles, where he succeeds, is paying off and that the Cape Crusader is in good hands. While he is good, it is Dafoe who is an absolute powerhouse here. Dafoe’s work is so good that you should be hearing his name come award season. Outside of the exterior portion of the role, which he is quite good, he gives Wake a certain madness that seems deep seated in the man’s soul. The character acts on pure instinct, which causes him to be very unpredictable at times. He lashes out at Winslow at the most unexpected moments throughout the story. Dafoe seems to be having the time of his life playing someone with no filter. It is an unpredictable performance that gives Dafoe a chance to be funny, mad, and recite some of Eggers beautiful dialogue. Both actors are given scenes where Eggers gives them a chance to let their inhabitations go, and both do a hell of a job bringing out the proper weirdness of the given scene.
The Lighthouse is actually full of those odd moments where you really don’t know what is going on. The ending is pretty much an enigma on its own. Eggers doesn’t make it easy for the audience, but he does provide a beautifully made looking film. Pattinson and Dafoe, again, probably his best work to date, only propel the intellectual mind fuck that he takes us on. Go in knowing as little as possible. It is a slow burn that turns to fire by the end.
I am giving The Lighthouse a 4 out of 5 Hairpieces!