[Movie Review] The Lighthouse (2019)
Canada, USA | Drama, Fantasy, Horror | R | Director: Robert Eggers | Writers: Max Eggers, Robert Eggers | Cast: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe | English | 110 minutes
Robert Eggers has established himself as a name to follow in the future because of his critically-acclaimed debut 'The VVitch'. He followed up the fantastic momentum with another gripping horror-drama, now with a touch of wild-styled surrealist fantasy, that practically feels like a love letter towards several most prominent names in the history of filmmaking. In 'The Lighthouse', Eggers presents you with his experimental take on constructing an astute madness by way of lyrical monochromatic visual enactment a la some of Ingmar Bergman's masterpieces like 'The Seventh Seal', 'The Virgin Spring', as well as Bela Tarr's 'The Turin Horse' and 'Satantango'. This one is also probably your only chance in the foreseeable outlook to see Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe epitomizing a ridiculously demented and subtly shambolic character, totally different compared to whatever roles they've done in the past.
I came into this film knowing that in spite of how brilliantly raved his previous work was, I'm no massive fan of 'The VVitch' because it lacks the driving force behind its conflict and fails, for me, to achieve the most essential objective of the horror genre, which is to withdraw the sense of fear and unsettledness out of the audience. So, I'm not kidding at all when I'm saying that 'The Lighthouse' is spectacular. This highly innovative silver screen truly resembles the core values of what it takes to faithfully represent the next generation of the movie industry. If we have to consume modern days' terror and paranoia like our life depends on it, then 'The Lighthouse' along with several other notables such as 'Hereditary', 'Suspiria' remake, 'Mother!', 'It', 'Don't Breath', 'Get Out' and 'Us' are the ways to go. 'Horror is a dead genre' they said, but Robert Eggers doesn't think so.
'The Lighthouse' essentially follows the same formula of 'The VVitch' as it also tells a story about a small group of people that has to deal with the unseen puissance and the impact they inflict against these personalities. Taking place in the 1980s, there are not many summaries to tell other than it follows the daily life of two lighthouse guardians, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) as the old-timer and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) as his newly placed lackey. It's been established from the beginning that Thomas is the one who's in charge with things on the upper part of the lighthouse while Ephraim shall take care of nothing more than abhorrent housekeeping tasks underneath. They wander around frequently to explore the beacon's environment where we could witness the grim, kind of swampy crevasses right along the shoreline and sight of the ferocious ocean surrounding them.
It's made known to Ephraim there are some rules that a lighthouse attendant has to comply with, and he's shown no interest in making things complicated for himself so he chooses to follow whatever the assignment was given to him. But on the other hand, Thomas seems keen on getting under Ephraim's skin. Being such a snotty ballbuster that he is and all that negatively superlative fart stuff he relishes to do, he's eagerly trying to tear down the poor stooge's cutthroat patience down its last atom and it feels like there's nothing matter that much for him other than making the poor young man burn down in his own rage. That's not the only problem bothering the frustrated flunkey throughout the movie as he has no power to avoid multiple encounters with an ominous seagull hellbent on vexing him everywhere he goes, not to mention that later on he's faced with a head-spinning fact about Thomas' former assistant.
Eggers doesn't demand diverse vast landscapes to produce his own mystical world. Albeit the narrative is significantly denser compared to 'The VVitch', it's far more intriguing to see how these two characters slowly increasing the intensity of headbutting between them. Even though the fate of this bunch is not really that unpredictable, it's the marvelously infuriating endeavor that will keep the audience invested during its 110 minutes of screentime. The world building almost entirely relies on the magical graphic composition and the superbly gripping sound design. This simplistic story might be rich in coercion, but it is undeniable that the whole cinematic experience feels just right and on point; the Mark Korven-composed tingling scores intertwining beautifully with the granulated ambient sightings captured by Jarin Blaschke's camera movement. 'The Lighthouse' is a kind of illustrative feast that is definitely something to be cherished for to the point if they don't have a story to tell for this film and just go with random imageries at this level of quality, it would still be a fantastic exhibition.
Now let's talk about the ultimate determining factor of this movie. Both Robert Eggers and his brother Max Eggers could team-up to write heavily engaging apologue like this, but it's never going to work if the actors can't pull out such a broad range of emotions required to bring Thomas Wake and Ephraim Winslow to life. Robert Pattinson could go from embedding the grouchy side of his role for most of the first act, wandering around with such lackadaisical thoughts in his head questioning why he's there in the first place since nothing is logical, to when he has to channel his lust in one of the film's boldest sequences, to suddenly blurt out in a quivering exasperation when the need calls.
In the wrong situation, some sort of performance showcased by Pattinson especially those which compel him to blow off some steam might be considered as empty braggadocio acting, cheap attempt to grasp the audience's attention but it works flawlessly for this particular movie because that type of performance is desired for the script to be in sync. Everyone who keeps doubting Pattinson's acting chops after this deserves a roundhouse kick on the head. Willem Dafoe is sensational as usual and in fact, 'The Lighthouse' is actually more of his stage rather than Pattinson. His portrayal of a revolting old man is very bewitching. His approach to convey Thomas' disordered thoughts, his imagination about the existence of a fictional (or maybe not, we'll never know) creature in the nearest coastline and the manner he's displaying in luring his sycophant to surrender to his bidding by dint of steady, messily calculated love-hate interactions. More reasons to love Dafoe as an astonishing screen performer.
Do not miss this movie whenever it's attainable at your convenience. Experience the horror you've never witnessed beforehand, the one that is capable of making the enormous array of spaces looks secluded and transforming the sequestered fear sourcing from the visceral part of human's mind into something gigantic. A story that never hesitates to tell more than just a mere single plot line but never resorts to being unnecessarily perplexed. It's a good time to be alive as a cinephile since this masterpiece is capable of convincing us to believe that we don't have to worry about running out of creative minds worth enjoying. The industry is safe in the hands of new faces like Mr. Eggers, folks.
Review written by: Dysan Aufar