Directed by: Robert Eggers
Premise: A light keeper and his trainee (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson) arrive at an isolated lighthouse. Over the course of several weeks the younger man experiences visions and other strange phenomena.
What Works: The Lighthouse is the sophomore feature from director Robert Eggers who previously helmed 2016’s The Witch. Eggers is not interested in conventional horror; his films are much more psychological and fantastic. The Lighthouse goes a bit further than The Witch
in its filmmaking and ambition. This film is marvelously crafted. It
is shot in black and white in an aspect ratio that varies from one
scene to the next. The cinematography is often gray which captures the
bleakness of the characters’ lives but at other times the imagery is
literally black and white with stark high contrast visuals. The effect
is dramatic and unnerving; The Lighthouse is simultaneously
ugly and beautiful and it is packed with moody atmosphere. The
oppressive tone is matched by surprising moments of humor. The
characters are idiosyncratic, especially Willem Dafoe’s veteran
lighthouse keeper, but the humor does not undermine the horrific
elements of The Lighthouse. Instead, the humor contributes to
the characterization and adds to the film’s endemic impression of
madness. The script, credited to Max and Robert Eggers, shows influence
of Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson but also H.P. Lovecraft
and the story dramatizes isolation and loneliness turning into madness.
The behavior of these men is increasingly erratic and the film offers a
lot to unpack about male relationships, desire, and social
deprivation. Among the strengths of this film is its dialogue. The
syntax and vocabulary are very specific and The Lighthouse is
an excellent example of characterization through dialogue. Just
listening to the way these men speak tells us much about who they are
and the time and place in which they live. That dialogue is delivered
by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson who turn out exceptional
performances. Dafoe gets to be colorful and even goofy but his
character is also worn rough by the life of a lighthouse keeper. Dafoe
balances harshness with moments of levity that make his character
vulnerable. Pattinson’s performance is less showy but he is very
precise in the way that he speaks and moves. The two men are the only
actors on screen for much of the movie and a lot of The Lighthouse’s success is due to their performances.
What Doesn’t: The Lighthouse is a horror picture but it does not fit within a specific subgenre like a haunted house film or a slasher movie. The picture is abstract in places; its concerns are less about exorcising outside threats and more about plumbing the depths of the human heart where desire turns into insanity. This is a very well made picture but viewers should go into it knowing that The Lighthouse is a cerebral film that doesn’t offer the simplistic supernatural conflicts that are popular in more mainstream horror.
Bottom Line: The Lighthouse is masterfully crafted and led by a pair of outstanding performances. This is the kind of movie that you can really feel as you watch it and its insights into the psychology of the characters offer a lot to dissect after the film has concluded.
Episode: #774 (November 3, 2019)