As a 50-year-old film freak, I’ve learned one important lesson: If a job description has the word caretaker in it, just say NO. Movies have taught me that being alone and isolated in a remote location with little or no supervision is never a good idea. Cabin fever doesn’t just strike in a cabin. Ask Jack Torrance, the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic, The Shining.
Horror films love blurring the lines between the supernatural and the mentally unstable. The Lighthouse starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson explores those same themes to great effect.
In the film, Thomas, played by Dafoe, and Ephraim, played by Pattinson, are left in charge of a lighthouse on a small deserted stretch of the New England coast in the 1890’s.
Thomas is an experienced “wicky” who has spent a career keeping the light burning for the ships finding their way home. Ephraim is still wet behind the ears.
The two men are charged with refurbishing the lighthouse and keeping the home fires burning for a couple of months until their relief arrives and take over.
After violent storms set in, provisions begin to dwindle and the two men start to cope with their isolation in different, possibly unhealthy ways.
The film makes great use of the myths and legends of the sea. From mermaids and tentacled monsters to the sacred status of seagulls, the Lighthouse references these symbols of seafaring life.
The audience is left to determine if these images are more myth or reality in the minds of our central characters. The screenplay and the production design evoke another time and another world. The accents, the jargon used by the actors, and the costumes are pitch perfect.
The Lighthouse is a striking piece of film-making. The aspect ratio is 1.19:1, meaning the screen is nearly a perfect square, heightening the claustrophobia of the two men living in close quarters. The black and white cinematography is stunning. If not for the high quality of the images, the footage would like it was being on Nickelodeon in the 1900’s.
Dafoe delivers a big Captain Ahab-inspired performance as Thomas, but never steps over the line into camp. Pattinson, on the other hand, is more restrained, almost timid, allowing his portrayal of Ephraim to be largely introverted. The pair strike a perfect tonal balance. Can a duo win Best Ensemble at the SAG award? It would be well-deserved in this case.
The lighthouse is an eye of the beholder film. You need to see it and make up your own mind. Robert Eggers previous film was the Witch from 2017. If you didn’t like the Witch, don’t let that keep you from seeing this film. They are two entirely different experiences. If you loved The Witch (as I did), then you’re going to be enthralled with this latest step in Robert Eggers’ career. I think the Lighthouse is one of the best films of 2019. I give it five out of five popcorn buckets.