'The Lighthouse' is beautiful insanity
4.5 of 5 stars
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson
Release date: Oct. 25
A salty tale of hard drinking, cabin fever and the disconnect between generations, "The Lighthouse" is a modern horror classic in the making, content to embrace its nonstop insanity. Whether its two characters are dancing around the dining room table in a drunken haze or arguing about their various duties on the island they find themselves on, it's hard to remove one's eyes from the black and white screen for the full hour and 49 minutes.
This film's only two characters are Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson). Wake is a caricature of an old sailor with a gravely voice, short temper and overbearing presence, and Dafoe portrays him with a Shakespearean flair. Winslow is a guarded young man with limited patience who seems desperate to escape his past.
Wake and Winslow are essentially trapped together on an island in the middle of the ocean, tasked with maintaining an old lighthouse for a period of four weeks. Their time together becomes increasingly confrontational as Wake's superstition and demanding leadership meets Winslow's skepticism and rebellious attitude.
What follows is the exact kind of movie that distributor A24 has become known for – bizarre, psychological horror that borders on the absurd, beautifully shot and well-acted within the confines of a unique story. Director Robert Eggers is, undoubtedly, the master of this style of cinema, having also directed "The Witch" (2015) under A24's umbrella.
Where "The Witch" and "The Lighthouse" find similarity is the steady psychological breakdown of deeply human characters in an extremely specific time period. "The Witch" had a puritan family in the early 1600's overwhelmed by literal and figurative demons, and "The Lighthouse" has two hard-working, late 19th century men struggling to control their darkest impulses.
As the tension builds in "The Lighthouse," so too does the anxiety in the viewer. Hearing the same droning noises of the island as the sea crashes against the rocks, going about daily chores right alongside the characters, it feels like you're going mad along with them. When Winslow gets rip-roaring drunk and hallucinates, it almost feels like you are too. When Wake goes on a three-minute monologue about the oncoming wrath of Neptune's trident, it's almost as if he's yelling through the screen at you.
Most of all, you just wish Winslow hadn't spilled his beans.
"The Lighthouse" is as engrossing as movies get, and it becomes a rollercoaster of cascading insanity that is entertaining, funny and occasionally upsetting, just as Eggers likely intended. Dafoe's performance is incredible and carries the film, but Pattinson is – by all accounts – the protagonist in this story. Or is he?
A recurring thought in my mind after absorbing "The Lighthouse" and all its intricacies is the idea that different generations might view the film differently. Sure, Wake seems like a crotchety old man who won't shut up from a young person's perspective, but an older viewer might sympathize with his impatience toward Winslow. Either way, the generational gap is clearly an overarching theme here.
Fragile masculinity seems to be at play in the film's characters, too, and their conflict with each other and within themselves leaves a lot up to interpretation.
This movie is definitely a thinker, and it isn't for everybody, but "The Lighthouse" is hardly pretentious in its desire to make the viewer reflect. It's horror without all the predictability and dull themes, and it's a pretty fun time for being so traumatic.
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