I don’t know that there’s another film out there quite like The Lighthouse, the much anticipated followup from writer/director Robert Eggers after his 2016 masterwork The Witch. I won’t see anything like The Lighthouse all year, there is a singular quality to the film and already a singular quality to Eggers just two films into his career. Two men (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson) tend to a lighthouse in the 1890s off the New England coast and slowly succumb to madness in the isolation. That’s all I got for you. It’s a film whose meaning and purpose I may never discern, but one whose effect and craft is undeniable.
Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke shoot the film with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, creating a square image to accentuate the cramped isolation these characters must share. They shoot using equipment from the 1930s and 40s and the effect is transportative, you feel like Fritz Lang or F.W. Murnau might have constructed some of these images. There’s just such rich texture in the celluloid that is absolutely jaw-dropping on the big screen. Shots of stormy waves are hauntingly beautiful. There are images from this film that are seared into my brain forever, it is an impossibly gorgeous film depicting absolutely ugly things.
Mark Korven, who also did the score for The Witch, continues to work his evil magic here. It’s sparse but tense, always exactly where it needs to be with slowly rising strings. The sound design goes a long way in this film. The mono sound mix subtly amps up inescapable isolation, and there is a foghorn that sounds off throughout the film, even seemingly becoming part of the score at points – that invokes the ominous and amps up the tension without ever becoming tired.
There is an undeniable joy and thrill of watching two amazing actors in Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson just go at it in each scene like boxers in a prize fight. There are no bounds for these two and where they may go in any given scene. I have absolutely no clue what’s going to happen whenever Dafoe starts talking, only that it’s going to be amazing. There’s a scene where Dafoe gets angry that Pattinson claims to not like his cooking, so he does like a 5 minute monologue invoking the righteous anger of Neptune upon him, and I don’t know that I’ve seen a more glorious bit of acting this year. If you are still telling yourself that Robert Pattinson is a bad actor, at this point you’re just fucking stupid. That narrative expired at least 5 years ago. Grow up, and go to a cinema and watch a fucking film. I’m sorry you can’t watch a film if a superhero isn’t in it. I’m tired of hearing this. It’s like trying to tell me that Trae Young is bad at basketball because he was bust material the first half of his rookie season. Guess what? Trae Young is really fucking good! Get over it! Pattinson continues to admirably use his star power to work with exciting filmmakers to get interesting and quality films made. Watching him go absolutely insane with paranoia and lust here is just a thrill. Pattinson is one of my favorite actors working right now, and it’s films like this that are why.
One thing that probably won’t get mentioned is how fucking funny this film is. It’s secretly one of the most hilarious films of the year with an absolutely black hole sense of humor. There’s far more fart, piss and shit jokes than I would have anticipated, and they always hit (literally). Eggers takes perverse joy in putting his actors through it, and watching Dafoe insult Pattinson each scene is just a joy. Anytime Dafoe goes over the top, I will always giggle, and there’s plenty of that in The Lighthouse. I was a little dismayed that me and my buddy Huston were the only ones laughing, because this film really is quite funny.
It’s truly incredible how undeniably great Eggers is just two films in. There is an unforgiving confidence and exacting poise in him that only the great filmmakers have this early on in their careers. I mean it, he’s going to be one of the great ones. Only a mad genius could come up with this film. I really can’t overstate how bonkers this film is. My buddy Huston joked afterward that he’s seen David Lynch films that make more sense than this. He’s not wrong. I have no clue what it’s “about”, but I also don’t care, because the sensation and craft of it all are so overwhelming that I don’t need to understand it all. Once you realize you don’t know where it’s going to go and just let it wash over you, then you can start actually watching it. It’s just a truly bonkers work of paranoia, it’s grotesquely horny and endlessly strange. The Lighthouse is pure madness somehow distilled into celluloid. More than anything, I’m just glad that this film exists and is somehow in wide release. That gives me hope.