I don’t really have a clever lead-in line to Roger Egger’s The Lighthouse for this review, partly because I’m still not sure just what the fuck I watched and partly because I’m processing the giddy traumas this thing inflicts on a viewer. One thing I’m sure of is the sheer elemental wonder of this film, it’s an intimate experience of immense power, a loving ode to black and white films overall, a pulverizing experience in off the wall horror, a terrific dose of briny black comedy, a dual character study for the ages, a gooey Lovecraft homage and one of the most hysterically intense viewing experiences of the year and perhaps ever.
From the moment Willem Dafoe’s Thomas Wake and Robert Pattinson’s Ephraim Winslow set foot on the rock that is to be their home for months, there is an oppressive maritime aura like no other, made so by several key factors. The haunting black and white photography by Jarin Blaschke is at once chilly, gorgeous and all encompassing, the creaky original score by Mark Korven has retro sensibilities and practically leaks dread off the screen and Eggers chooses to frame his story in the 1.19:1 aspect ratio used by early B&W filmmakers like F.W. Murnau. These aspects combined craft one unforgettable, deeply disquieting package, and I haven’t even raved about the performances yet. Dafoe and Pattinson give the kind of towering, monumental, thunderous turns that make you scared for them and want to yell cut before they’re lost to the maelstrom of their own mania. Dafoe is a creepy, crusty, brittle old salt who bellows, farts, berates and abuses Pattinson’s Winslow, a greenhorn who quickly loses his keen edge to the drink and the intangible, perhaps supernatural forces surrounding them. It’s a macabre treat watching these two poor sods race each other headlong towards madness helped by copious amounts of rum, the gnawing reality of isolation and the ever present wailing of seagulls which, as Dafoe makes clear, are bad luck to kill.
Word of warning with this one though: this is very much a bizarre, knowingly fucked up arthouse film and worlds apart from Egger’s hailed previous effort ‘The Witch,’ which for all its insanity actually had a coherent and decipherable story. With The Lighthouse he strives more for abstract, surreal and often impenetrable imagery and has no interest in providing concrete reasons or resolution for what’s seen, heard and felt. I myself prefer this style much more than conventional storytelling but it’s not for everyone and for better or worse there will be no viewer, however thick-skinned, left undisturbed. In any case this is one unique and impressive piece of work; Dafoe and Pattinson howl their way through impossibly long and intricate monologues (cue the original script and acting Oscars), the wind shrieks through the gorgeously designed set, a beautiful but terrifying mermaid (Valeriia Karamen) screams like a banshee out on the barnacle stained rocks and the ever present beam of the lighthouse (sometimes seeming eerily similar to the projector beam within the cinema itself) pierces the New England fog and sees all. A masterpiece and one of the very best films of the year thus far.