While “The Lighthouse” is simply centered on two men and a maritime structure, it also happens to be one of the best films of the year.
Director Robert Eggers returns with “Lighthouse,” his follow up to his feature debut, 2015’s “The Witch,” which earned a lot of acclaim. This time around, his latest movie follows Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), two lighthouse workers who’re tasked with operating an Atlantic coast facility for about a month.
The experienced worker, Thomas, takes the night shifts and operates the tower to guide ships, while Ephraim is given mostly maintenance work. The labor is tough but appears fairly routinely. However, strange occurrences start taking place and Ephraim begins questioning what’s real and what’s not.
“The Lighthouse” breaks down to about two parts thriller and one part horror, with just a bit of dark comedy here and there. All of it, though, is great. It’s an engaging, challenging work of art that puts an audience in a state of unease from the beginning.
The setting is an old, shoddy structure in a cold, stark landscape. So, the characters are immediately put in an uncomfortable situation. From there, the tension only becomes more palpable.
Eggers, who also co-wrote the picture with his brother Max, delivers a deliciously moody thriller. There’s an underlying dread always lurking in the film as the lines between reality appear to blur.
This is what really keeps an audience engaged, as a viewer is constantly left guessing. There are questions on whether the character Winslow is actually seeing things, if he’s losing his mind, if everything around him is real or even if the whole situation is playing out like he thinks it is.
In a sense, the mysterious, almost dream-like story telling featured in “The Lighthouse” is reminiscent of a “Twilight Zone” tale, in the best ways. The Eggers also deserve credit, though, for injecting slight moments of humor. It’s never enough to truly break the tension, but there is a hint of levity along with character insight offered.
Along with a a strong script, “Lighthouse” is heavily bolstered by its two leading actors. Dafoe is exceptional, giving another performance worthy of nominations and accolades. His character is certainly a classic ‘man of the sea,’ from his beard to how he speaks, but Dafoe commits so damn much to the work that there’s an authenticity to it.
There’s a balance of experience and aloofness that Dafoe lends to the character, which boosts the concept of not truly knowing what’s going on, too. Overall, while Dafoe does plenty of scenery chewing, his performance remains fascinating to watch.
Matching Dafoe’s work is Pattinson, who’s incredible as the main character Winslow. While a viewer is initially sympathetic toward the character, as the story goes on it becomes difficult to see who the man really is, and Pattinson is wonderful in providing an ambiguity to the performance that works very well.
From seeing the promotional material, the first visual factor a viewer will notice is the movie’s black and white look. The picture was shot on 35 mm, which really works to the movie’s advantage. The distinct black and white look, along with the picture’s style, add to the movie’s other worldly feel and also make the historic look come across as more authentic.
The film’s cinematographer Jarin Blaschke deserves plenty of praise for his impressive work, with a fantastic use of lighting and several memorable shots.
While there’s plenty of pros to go around for “The Lighthouse,” as this review has shown, it falls short in just a few areas. The movie does come across as slightly aimless at times and once or twice there was a feeling the picture could be trimmed.
However, as a mysterious thriller, “The Lighthouse is still top tier. The performances are phenomenal, the writing is thought-provoking and the technical aspects are all on point. 4.9 out of 5
Photos courtesy Regency Enterprises and A24.