Directed By Robert Eggers
Starring – Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, Valeriia Karaman
The Plot – The hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers (Dafoe, Pattinson) on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.
Rated R for sexual content, nudity, violence, disturbing images, and some adult language
– Unique visual presentation. Since the film is based in 1890, Eggers treats us to a 35mm black and white presentation for the film that visually articulates the kind of cinematography associated with the silent picture era. He caps this off with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, which gives the film a boxed gimmick to its framing, used not only to feed into what I previously mentioned, but also to further signify the isolation associated with these characters feeling very alone in their personal stances. To cap off style with an immense level of substance, the transition edits realized from some exceptionally vertical long take pans better help capture the passage of time, allowing the next continuation to paste together seamlessly. This better explains the notion of time rubbing together, which in turn plays wonderfully into the psychosis of two strangers who are asked to co-exist with each other for an inordinate amount of time.
– Committed duo of performances. Right down to consistently maintaining their Irish (Dafoe) and Maine (Pattinson) accents respectively, these two critically acclaimed actors establish why they are masters of their craft while establishing conscience to their characters. Not only did the two actually study journals from past lighthouse keepers in order to fully embrace the structure of their vocabulary, but also to fully immerse themselves in the very psychological pulse associated with such a thankless career. For Pattinson, that comes at the hands of an emotional evolution that slowly comes off of the hinges with each passing moment, implanting weight of pressure to the character’s inexperience that has him often on the consequential side of such traditions and procedures that he questions frequently. Pattinson’s vulnerability with the character allow him to give in to believing that everything he sees is real, and keeps him mentally running from the point of stability that the character originated from. However, this is definitely Dafoe’s show, and everyone else gravitates to his aura like moths to a flam. Willem’s Thomas wears the physical and psychological scars of a tortured past associated with isolation, which has presented the raging alcoholic traditionalist we see before us. Dafoe’s strongest qualities are his burning eyes of adrenaline that burn persistently, as well as his long-winded diatribes of Irish rhetoric that constantly astounded my perception of who I knew as an already top notch actor. Both of these men transform before us, giving their minds, bodies, and souls in an almost hypnotic trance that the film’s environmental elements weigh heavily from.
– Immersive experience. Sounds are perhaps one of the most important aspects of the film, with them influencing the film’s musical score so prominently, as well as placing weight within the location’s influence to what is transpiring. There are musical instruments used throughout the picture, but the unnerving buzz of ship horns and storm warning sirens are virtually inescapable, and build the tension in a way that reaches suffocating levels of pressure by about the midway point of the film. In addition to this, the constant influence of waves splashing, or rain and thunder rumbling on the frail lightkeeper station is one the conjures up immense vulnerability for our protagonists, serving as a constant reminder to the environment evolving persistently outside of their vantage points. The sound mixing for the film is done so superbly that you could close your eyes and still visually picture with your imagination what is transpiring in visual capacity. It’s audible storytelling at its finest, and follows us and our characters faithfully throughout so that we, like them, are never to escape the weight of its painful clutches.
– Theme enhancement. This is a film that centers around the consequences persisting from long-term isolation and loneliness, and because of such, the film has a difficult task that it competently masters in relaying this undesirable situation to those of us beyond the screen, who are dealing with anything but. Eggers captures this disposition with a combination of aspects like minimal dialogue and characters, repetition in character sounds used to drive each other mad, the constant influence of environmental elements, which I previously mentioned, and an uncomfortable exchange of interaction that transfers naturally between two men who have never met. It places us the audience at the heat of the environment, making everything from the fantastical imagery to the illogical character movements that much more understanding once you’ve seen what they seen. As I mentioned before, this is especially a difficult thing, purely for the fact that audiences constantly understand that cinema isn’t reality, but Eggers and staff’s amplification of environment, which constantly stirs the pot, does so with all of the elements playing together as cohesive ingredients, giving us one slow boil of taste that we constantly associate with this toxic environment.
– Realism in context. For a film that features so much fantastical illusions, the grounded approach to the film’s production is one that pays off immensely for the integrity of the gimmick. Pattinson and Dafoe barely spoke off-screen, choosing instead to save their moments of ground-breaking awkwardness and embrace for the times when it would solidify the authenticity of the scene that is depicting the very same thing. In addition to this, the undesirable weather conditions themselves are done naturally, as three different category four storms plagued the film’s production, but rather than shut down the show, Eggers instead chose to use its elements for sequences in the film that put the two male leads through hell. One of my favorite films of the decade, “The Revenant” was similar in its production choices, and I think the satisfaction gained between both films preserves a level of realism that is often decreased by meandering interaction post-production. It leaves the best moments on-screen, and better emits the intensity of the performances because of such.
– Methods of manhood. I commend this film immensely for including the moments between male interaction that otherwise wouldn’t be present in a mainstream Hollywood release. Aspects like frequent flatulence, masturbation, in-depth detailing of sexual conquests, and especially physical conflict are things that are easily expected when two men are asked to spend so much time together, free from the escapism of society or other people. These quirks also contribute to the nagging annoyance that each of these men play on one another, taking something as miniscule as breathing heavily, and blowing it out to the point that a World War of its own constructs underneath this roof. Toxic masculinity plays such a dominating direction in the film, but not the kind you would expect. The themes and deconstruction is very much the kind that was prominent in the late 19th century, choosing once again to immerse us in the very kind of personal conflicts present with the primary breadwinner of such a generation.
– Characterization. This is probably my favorite aspect of the film, and not just because Pattinson and Dafoe give such gravitating performances. These feel like living, breathing people who have come to life, thanks in part to the brothers Eggers, who have fleshed these people out with a collection of backstories, secrets, fears, and of course a straining amount of time deposited to them interacting and doing the exercises of the job. This takes what we view as an actor, and forces them to do the necessary heavy lifting with valuing them as characters above that pre-conceived notion. It feels like I understand what makes these characters tick more than any other film that has come out this year, and even with this film being a brief 105 minutes, it fleshes out a world and characters with so much depth that it signals how close the connection to it was to its exceptional director, and it serves as one of those rare cases where you wish it was three hours long, just so you could learn even more about them.
– The real leading man. Speaking of flawless direction, Eggers has really established his presence in a world of horror still trying to find itself in 2019. For “The Lighthouse”, he maintains what feels like a paranormal presence to everything transpiring, and grounds it to human levels of execution while bringing out the personal demons that haunt us everywhere we go. He does this while making his films essentially tone-less, blending the sides of horrific imagery and awkward humor, and creating something truly innovative and fresh, that never soils the integrity of either side. In addition to this, he marries the worlds of style and substance seamlessly, conjuring up a side of horror not often attacked in mainstream releases, due to its lack of mental strength. As was the case in his first film “The Witch”, this film is also a thinking-but-rewarding piece of horror cinema that doesn’t settle for cheap jump scares or artificial sound design to add influence to the picture. Instead, he preserves everything front-and-center on the camera, and generates some of the most unnerving and chilling performances from his duo of prestigious actors, which I believe is each of their best work to date.
– Arduous pacing. I know what you’re thinking; shouldn’t that be a positive? Not in this specific example. Because so much of the film relies on time and the lack of presence that it commands over the dynamic of the isolation, the slow progression of storyboards is actually a benefit to the film, in once more feeling what the characters are enduring. By itself, it’s not that this is even what I would describe as a slow-burn film, but the second half is definitely far greater than the first, where those initial first few meetings with the characters and the environment that Eggers has manufactured will tell you everything you need to know if this is in fact the film for you. For my money, it’s one of the more rewarding experiences that I have had in quite some time, and even if I wasn’t a figure inside of the film’s universe, I feel like I lived and endured every chilling experience that the film takes its time in getting through.
– Unpredictable. This is especially the case during the final act of the film, where even if you’ve guessed what the conflict will come down to, you will never be able to predict the kind of terrifying heights it takes us through. There was imagery in this film that I compared to an episode of “Twin Peaks”, for the way light and shadows play in preserving human characters with an almost paranormal rendering, giving me several jaw-dropping moments that stuck with me even hours after I watched it. The final shot is one that is every bit satisfyingly justified as it is echoing to the rules of the Lightkeeper coming back into play once more. It left me energized from its inescapable horror, it left me terrified for the aftershock of taking everything in, and it left me satisfied with a level of closure that doesn’t allow even the tiniest bit of air to seep in.
My Grade: 10/10 or A+