“How long have we been on this rock? Five weeks? Two days? Where are we? Help me to recollect.”
The Lighthouse is a 2019 psychological horror film directed and produced by Robert Eggers, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Max Eggers. Shot in black-and-white, the film stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two lighthouse keepers who start to lose their sanity when a storm strands them on the remote island where they are stationed.
In the late 19th century, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) is sent on a boat to serve a contract job as a wickie for four weeks on an isolated island off the coast of New England, under the supervision of an irritable elderly man named Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). On the first day of the job, Winslow notices a hole in his cot. As he digs into it, he finds a small scrimshaw of a mermaid and stuffs it in his jacket. Winslow observes Wake going up to the lighthouse’s lantern room at night and stripping naked. Winslow begins experiencing visions and dreams of tentacles in the lighthouse, tree stumps floating in the water, and distant images of a mermaid (Valeriia Karamän).
Over the course of his stay, Wake demands Winslow take the more taxing jobs—refueling the light, carrying heavy kerosene containers, and disposing of the two men’s chamber pots. As the weeks progress, Winslow repeatedly encounters a seagull. Wake warns Winslow that it is bad luck to kill a seagull, as he is superstitious that the animals are reincarnated sailors. The weeks continue, and Winslow masturbates to the figurine of the mermaid and continues to see Wake naked. One night at dinner, the two get to know each other and discuss Wake’s previous second wickie, who Wake says died shortly after losing his sanity. Winslow reveals that he used to work in Canada as a timberman, but decided to change professions.
The day before Winslow is slated to leave, he notices the water pump is releasing bloody water and investigates. He checks the cistern to see a dying gull floating inside. The one-eyed seagull flies down and attacks Winslow, who grabs it and beats it to death against the cistern.
Was Wake right about the superstition? Will killing a gull really attract bad luck or is the mounting insanity just inevitable?
The Lighthouse is an amazing scenario for a horror movie, and has a truly unique situation that I’ve never seen before. Going into it I could never have imagined watching two lighthouse keepers trapped on an island would be so entertaining and one of my favourite films of the year but here we are. The Lighthouse is a hypnotic, entrancing, engrossing mindfuck. It was one of those films where you turn the lights off and just fully immerse yourself.
It cannot be stressed enough how incredibly well acted this film is. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson are unbelievable and their performances are truly award winning. The casting was perfect and absolutely genius. Their dynamic was marvellous, leading to scenes of such an array of emotion. I would go from laughter to disgust, tense to enchanted. The best scenes are the quiet conversational ones, which is a true testament to both their performances. Eventually, you start to see their relationship as almost an old married couple, where the lighthouse itself is the mistress that they both crave. The director definitely understands the power of environment in a movie and the lighthouse is a character in her own right.
Speaking of the environment, The Lighthouse has some stunning cinematography and the shots are beautiful. The black and white aspect definitely adds to the visuals as a creative element. Furthermore, the effects are fantastic and extremely realistic.
In artsy films such as these sometimes you can feel a level of pretentiousness but that’s not the vibe this film has at all. I felt very involved and although I was often bewildered by this fever dream, I never felt lost or forgotten.
The Lighthouse is an enchanting, horrifying tale full of realistic, raw human emotion and the two best performances I’ve ever seen. I’ve never felt such a range of emotions watching a film, it truly is an experience. The supernatural elements just added to the story, making it feel Lovecraftian and if I could think of any negatives (very difficult), it would be that I would have preferred a more clear ending. But I understand the ambiguity though and it doesn’t ruin the journey at all.