Talented filmmaker Eggers tortures viewers with his high concept arty experiment.
At around a half hour into “The Lighthouse,” I was totally hooked. Watching Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson spar is fun, and then things took a cruel turn. The milk curdle of the painful last third will captivate those looking for something entirely different and frustrate others, who may have been curious to see what the Batman (Pattinson) will do next.
When Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) arrives on a tiny island to work as a wickie, he’s greeted by his gruff superior Thomas Wake (Dafoe). A “wickie” refers to Wake’s profession, that of a lighthouse keeper. A pipe smoking, limping, often openly flatulent character, Wake is a rather disagreeable companion. When the supply ship leaves, the barren island is only inhabited by the two men, who are tormented by an inquisitive number of annoying seagulls. But there may be something lurking out in the sea, something tempting and dangerous.
As time passes, the two men grow somewhat closer, especially as they share a bottle. But when a storm threatens, and the supply ship is delayed, tensions run hot. We see an ugly, violent descent into madness that forces audiences to question the warped reality of is transpiring.
An experiment both narratively and technically, the unique visuals are certainly the film’s highlight. Shot using vintage lenses and special filters that prevented red light from reaching the black and white 35mm film, cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, who worked with director Robert Eggers on the excellent “The Witch,” immerses the viewer into another world. On top of the throwback gear, Eggers and Blaschke adopt a unique 1.19:1 aspect ratio that Blaschke has called something akin to a “window or a peephole.” It’s a risky choice, but the look proves to be enchanting. Otherwise, it’s a hard movie to recommend.
Pattinson and Dafoe are certainly all in, as they engage with one another on a number of serious and slapstick levels. But while there is humor, it comes at a great human cost. It’s impossible to loosen up while watching this edgy narrative. It’s dark and dank and you can almost smell the decay and filth. At times, the closeups and intimate camera work puts you well inside each character’s personal space; you might even want to wash up after taking in this grimy picture.
“The Lighthouse” is a punishing film with a miserable conclusion; it’s only recommended to those willing to wallow in its sad view of men running from guilt and finding no quarter.