In 1980s New England, two lighthouse keepers are stationed on a remote island for a month. During their stay, withered former sailor Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and his subordinate, a young drifter named Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) must endure the unforgiving elements, each other’s shortcomings and their own inner demons.
As with Robert Eggers’ masterful debut The Witch, there’s plenty of room to discover your own interpretation of The Lighthouse. Layers of mythology and biblical overtones meet superstitious folk tales and the chilling true story the film’s inspired by. However, perhaps the most simple but effective thread is that of a man’s loosened grip on his own sanity. Cinematically mirroring The Shining by opening with a still, snapshot-like view of Wake and Winslow staring down the lens. A captured frame of the calm before the storm that shares the same eerie sense of inevitability of the black-and-white photograph of Jack Torrance that closes Kubrick’s horror classic.
A foghorn that’s continually wailing out, paired with Mark Korven’s unsettling score causes days to blend into weeks. A loss of time and bearing, that’s reminiscent of the disorientation of the Overlook, takes its toll and becomes etched on Winslow’s face. A far-away gaze that echoes the haunting fixation that once engulfed Jack Nicholson’s doomed Torrance.
Other than a rather persistent seagull and a mystical visitor, we’re witness to only Dafoe and Pattinson slugging it out for the film’s entirety, exposure that could be very revealing is instead mesmerisingly watchable as the pair knock exhibitions back and forth. While The Witch exuded a certain feminity, a twisted coming-of-age tale of a girl becoming a woman. The Lighthouse explores masculinity with internal battles of lust and shame and struggles of expression.
Although less of a full-blooded horror than his debut, Eggers’ flair for horrific imagery remains and in place of the earthy tones of The Witch, cinematographer Jarin Blaschke drenches The Lighthouse in darkness. Shot in stark black-and-white with a square aspect ratio, the troubled wickies are projected as ghoulish figures, lost in time.
Robert Eggers continues to carve out his own uncompromising place in cinema with The Lighthouse, a piercing study of sanity gradually eroding.