Like his 2015 film The Witch, Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse feels more like a lost artifact than something newly produced. Where The Witch explored the darkness of Salem paranoia and demonic possession, the director’s latest dives into waters of a different sort that are no less turbulent.
Shot on Kodak black-and-white 35mm and projected in a narrow 1.19:1 ratio, the movie tells a Melville-like story of madness and abandonment at an outpost on the Atlantic coast. Willem Dafoe plays a gruff lighthouse keeper, snarling out seafaring parables to his new assistant played by Robert Pattinson.
The film shifts from early on odd-couple banter to absolute brutality, as the conditions worsen and the sense of isolation increases. The result is a fantastically strange yet always engaging descent into madness, where the two men battle their own demons as well as each other. With dialogue borne from era-specific sources, the diction has a heightened, theatrical element. The two actors pull this tough, arcane language off as perfectly as seasoned Shakespeareans, even when conditions are downright dire.
The film soaks one to the bone, drawing the viewer into the sordid environs of the lighthouse. The feel of the place is beautifully executed. It would come across as documentary-like if not for the more implausible elements. The key effect, however, is from the performances. Dafoe is downright amazing, and Pattinson continues to demonstrate his range and capabilities. It’s an acting tour de force, a visual treat, and a slice of weird cinema that’s sure to impress.
The Lighthouse shines its sickly light in ways that are comedic, tragic, and every mode in between. With exceptional roles for two of the great actors working today, the film shows no sense of stopping for Eggers and his unique cinematic vision.