Like its predecessor, the well executed “The Witch” the film “The Lighthouse” directed by Robert Eggers, which he co-wrote with his brother Max, is a period piece. Parts drama, fantasy, and horror, the film is set in 1890, and centers on two lighthouse keepers who are attempting to endure living on a remote island off of the coast of New England. Robert Pattinson (Twilight) portrays Ephraim Winslow, a quiet, former lumberjack who is seeking a fresh start in his life. His new beginning, is that of a lighthouse keeper. The job is such that the physical demands, which are numerous, take as heavy a toll on his body, as the relative isolation of living on the island where the lighthouse is located, will appear to play tricks on his mind. Winslow’s only companion is an unsavory curmudgeon, a former Navy sailor, named Thomas Wake, played by four time Oscar nominee William Dafoe (The Florida Project). Wake enjoys belittling Thomas, as well as partaking in some very strange nocturnal activities. He’s also very protective when it comes to the lighthouse. He insists on being the only one of the two who gets to handle the light at the top. He keeps the door to the top of the lighthouse locked, and he even sleeps with the key, to prevent Winslow from going up to the top of the lighthouse. Wake’s behavior, naturally, only serves to get the better of Winslow’s curiosity. Winslow wants to know what exactly is the secret that Wake is guarding? Additionally, he wants to know what it is that Wake does, when he goes up to the top of the lighthouse.
Pattinson and Dafoe’s characters play off of one another very well. There is an overriding tension that exists between the two men, virtually from the outset of their working relationship. The more time they are kept together on the island, the more palpable the tension becomes. After a night of drowning their sorrows, the two men realize that they have more in common than either initially believed possible. Their newly formed bond, however, is tenuous, thanks to a storm. The inclement weather prolongs the two men’s month long stay on the island, because the ship that was coming to resupply Wake and Winslow, and take Winslow from the island, is being kept away from shore; the conditions are simply too dangerous to try to land. (As an aside: The conditions shown on screen, were not the product of Hollywood special effects. The inclement weather that pounded Cape Forchu, Nova Scotia, where the film was being shot, pushed the cast and crew to their limits).
“The Lighthouse” is not a horror film in the traditional sense. There are no jump scares, nor are there crazed killers running wild while wielding knives or some other such weapons. What makes “The Lighthouse” impactful is the sense of psychological dread that prevails throughout the atmospheric film. The film takes its time to build toward the hallucinogenic nightmare that is at its core, or is it? What is real and what is the product of isolation comes heavily into play throughout its 109 minute runtime. For example, are mermaids real, or have they become the product of the characters’ imagination? Are ghosts really present on the island, or are they the product of the imagination of two men, who have lost touch with reality?
“The Lighthouse” premiered on May 19, 2019 at the Cannes Film Festival. The film is a combination of: spot on cinematography by Jarin Blaschke, who was nominated for a BAFTA and an Oscar for his work on “The Lighthouse;” wonderful editing done by Louise Ford (Wildlife); Mark Korven’s (The Terror) score which synchs up well with what is transpiring on screen; and the way the filmmakers capture the historical accuracy of the time period, everything from the way the actors were costumed, to the spoken dialogue.
I don’t want to go into any further detail and ruin the film for those of you who’ve yet to see it and want to. In a film of this nature, the less you know, or the less you think you know sitting down to watch it, the better. Suffice it to say, as a film lover, “The Lighthouse” was an excellent gem of a film, from a director, who I can only imagine will keep producing captivating work. I know, however, that my opinion will not be shared by everyone. The film will not be for everyone. Some viewers will more than likely be turned off by the lack of a straightforward story, that answers all of the questions by the film’s conclusion, and thus leaves them feeling frustrated. Other viewers, will more than likely enjoy piecing together what can come across as an ambiguous film, and attempt to solve the mystery of what they’ve just watched.