The Lighthouse ★★★★

"Now I'm a wickie, and a wickie I is."

Ladies, I really don't want you to think that the two men in The Lighthouse are at all representative of how the male gender farts and jerks off. Trust me, it's just a movie. It's not realistic.

In real life, it's actually way more than that.

Robert Eggers' two-hander of a psychological drama/horror is The Lighthouse, probably tied with Bacurau for the weirdest and wildest movie I've seen this year. But that's all those two films share, as this one couldn't be more different. Black-and-white, two actors sharing the screen virtually the entire duration, 1.19:1 aspect ratio. Eggers makes a statement here in a picture like no other, and while it's far from perfect, it was a delight to see in the cinema.

Thomas Wake (Willem Defoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) disembark on an otherwise-empty rocky island, a spot in the sea -- probably the Northern Atlantic, but never specified -- far from civilization but the location of an important lighthouse, which Wake will man and Winslow will fuel among other tasks. It's clear who's in charge, as Wake says so numerous times, asking his subordinate to always respond "aye, sir." As any two men forced to live in close quarters do, they fluctuate wildly from joyous romps (helped by alcohol) and tall tales, to open disdain and violent arguments. But Winslow takes a fascination to Wake's manning of the "wick" of the lighthouse, the top level of the structure locked by a key only he possesses and access to which only he allows. When the claustrophobia of this small island and the unrelenting sea weather begin to take a severe toll on both men, and Winslow increasingly pushed to the physical and mental limit by his work, ever more haunting and unexplained events befall the twosome.

You can read the whole plot of this thing and still not know what the hell happened, and admittedly I did feel that way at times. Surely Eggers is playing around during some moments, with brutal cuts from reality to fantasy and all consciousnesses in between. Like Winslow, you aren't sure what's real and what's fake, and while surely on purpose it's just a ride you have to take knowing you won't grasp it all. Perhaps we're not meant to.

I was afraid this would be scary -- most of you know my aversion (read: extreme dread) of horror films -- but it's honestly not at all. Suspenseful, tense, and twist-laden? Yes to all three. But another thing you may not have heard: The Lighthouse is really goddamn funny. Sometimes maybe it isn't purposefully so, as the scenes can be so absurd that you can't help but guffaw. But other moments are clearly comedic and elicited some of the loudest laughs in a theatre I've heard this year. The language of the seamen -- ha, yes I intended that pun -- is deliberately bizarre and yields some epic battles on screen.

Pattinson's accent wavers a little, as it mostly sounds like he has heard a lot of JFK speeches and clips of The Simpsons' Mayor Quimby. Dafoe on the other hand nearly invents a language of his own where closed captions may have helped. Nevertheless, he is brilliant, easily one of the best acting performances of the year and the soul of this film. Sure, you've already heard "why'd ya spill yer beans?" But trust me, Dafoe crushes scene after scene, in particular a monologue in the middle of the picture that left my jaw on the floor. He is absolutely unreal.

Eggers definitely is a student of film, with the color and aspect ratios evocative of the era of German Expressionism. But Fritz Lang he is not, and The Lighthouse goes off the rails a little too much in an attempt at psychological drama and manic horror. This movie is a swing for the fences, and I'll say he hits a triple and not quite a home run. Still, an absolute hoot and unlike anything you'll see on the big screen. Big props to A24 for the promotion and production of this film and getting it to a semi-wide audience. You better have paid to see this, people.

Added to The Best Narrative Films of 2019.
Added to 2020 Independent Spirit Awards nominees, ranked.
Added to 2020 Academy Awards nominees, ranked.

🐱Andrew liked these reviews

All