"The Lighthouse" (2019)- Movie Review

Written and Directed by Robert Eggers
Co-written by Max Eggers
Starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe

‘A Tense Psychological Thriller’

Imagine being stranded on an isolated island in the 19th Century. In the wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, we’ve become accustomed to a life of social distancing. Let’s ponder for a moment, though, what it would feel like to be isolated in the 19th Century. As a lighthouse keeper, your task is to perform exhausting activities on a daily basis. To make matters worse, your only companion is a cranky boss that constantly berates the quality of your work. In this unpleasant situation, only you can decide how to react. Would you be able to maintain a healthy and stable life? Or would you lose your sanity and succumb to the temptations of isolation?

This is the intriguing concept behind Robert Eggers’ latest film “The Lighthouse”. An intense, gripping and mesmerizing psychological thriller, it transports viewers into the lives of two lighthouse keepers. With his second feature, writer/director Robert Eggers has crafted a frightening film about the social isolation faced by two lighthouse keepers in the 19th Century. Packed with spellbinding cinematography, captivating technical aspects and phenomenal performances, it is a highly effective thriller. Although “The Lighthouse” is undeniably unforgettable, ultimately it is not a flawless film. It builds to a bizarre ending that leaves viewers with questions. Nonetheless, it offers entrancing entertainment that will satisfy fans of art-house Cinema.

Set on a secluded New England island in the 1890’s, “The Lighthouse” tells the story of two lighthouse keepers’ descent into madness. Robert Pattinson stars in the lead role as Ephraim Winslow, a lonely caretaker that works on a lighthouse island. Under the watchful eye of his irritable boss Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), Winslow performs tiresome activities to take care of the island. However, Winslow’s life forever changes when he experiences strange visions of supernatural events. As Winslow begins to lose his grip on reality, isolation tears his life apart.

Writer/director Robert Eggers is no stranger to themes of social isolation. His directorial debut “The Witch” was lauded for its original depiction of a religious family that encounter evil spirits on an isolated farm. With “The Lighthouse”, however, Eggers has crafted his first psychological thriller. It’s the filmmaker’s first attempt to capture the loneliness experienced by lighthouse keepers in the nineteenth century, but he pulls it off seamlessly. Using captivating cinematography, Eggers draws viewers into the lives of solitary lighthouse keepers. From intimate close-ups to anxiety-inducing long shots, the black-and-white cinematography keeps viewers immersed in the film’s setting. It gives the film a tense and suspenseful atmosphere reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock. Working alongside cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, Eggers creates a gorgeous film in which each frame is frightening to behold. Eggers excels at immersing viewers in the isolated setting, and his latest feature is worth watching for this reason alone.

If themes of social isolation do not attract your attention, though, there are still plenty of other reasons to see “The Lighthouse”. The film is extremely well-made, and features the most astonishing technical aspects you’ll ever see in an art-house drama. The aspect ratios, sound effects and musical score are all carefully chosen, combining to create an immersive cinematic experience. Eggers proves to be an expert at choosing aspect ratios for his films. Eggers’ decision to shoot the film using the tight 1.19:1 Movietone ratio is risky, but it works tremendously. The box-like ratio immerses viewers into the film’s claustrophobic setting, putting them into the delusional mindset of the main character. Moreover, the sound design is also worth praising. Damian Volpe’s sound design is incredibly effective. From the blasting foghorns to screeching seagulls, the sound effects instill a sense of tension and dread in the viewer. Through awe-inspiring technical elements, Eggers keeps viewers engrossed in an isolated world.

Another admirable aspect of “The Lighthouse” is the screenplay. Robert Eggers’ screenplay is spectacular, and arguably the main highlight of the movie. Filled with fascinating characters, provocative themes and minimal dialogue, the script elevates the movie to another level. Eggers’ greatest strength as a screenwriter is his ability to use sparse dialogue to communicate the relationship between the main characters. In Hollywood, most movies are driven by dialogue and rely on conversations to keep viewers entertained. Without dialogue, movies often risk becoming boring. Thankfully, though, that is definitely not the case with “The Lighthouse”. Eggers skillfully uses silence to convey the unspoken desires and homoerotic tension between two isolated men. Minimal dialogue is a tricky technique to employ in films that are set in confined spaces, but it works immensely in this movie. Using an unconventional screenplay, Eggers keeps viewers absorbed in the relationship between reclusive lighthouse keepers.

It is hard to not praise the phenomenal performances from the cast. The film serves as a stunning showcase for its two leading stars.

Robert Pattinson delivers his finest performance to date as Ephraim Winslow. Pattinson has spent most of his career playing lovelorn vampires in book adaptations. With “The Lighthouse”, however, he takes on his most mature role to date. It is not easy to portray a psychotic lighthouse keeper in the 19th Century. It’s a challenging role that requires a certain degree of physical commitment. However, Pattinson pulls it off effortlessly. With mesmerizing expressions, he conveys the angst, loneliness and sexual frustrations of a caretaker that is driven insane by isolation. It’s a powerful performance that marks an evolution in Pattinson’s career as an actor.

Willem Dafoe is unforgettable in the role of a superstitious sailor that abuses his power. While Pattinson gets the showier role, Dafoe is also astonishing and worthy of awards recognition. As Thomas Wake, he showcases a knack for asserting authority through his gravelly voice. Whether he is spouting out a passionate soliloquy or disparaging his inferior, Dafoe skillfully uses his powerful voice to convey the character’s domineering persona. It’s a sensational performance from one of the most seasoned actors working today.

Although “The Lighthouse” is undeniably a terrifying thriller, ultimately it is not a flawless film. If there’s a minor drawback to the movie, it suffers from a puzzling conclusion. Eggers’ decision to end the film on an ambiguous shot that is open to interpretation is bold and innovative, but it doesn’t entirely work. Instead of bringing the story to a satisfying closure, the ending simply raises questions and leaves viewers in a state of shock. Moreover, its worth noting that the movie may not please everyone. The film tackles controversial topics such as isolation, sexuality and masculinity that may upset some viewers. Viewers that are sensitive towards graphic scenes of masturbation will not enjoy the movie. Due to its disturbing imagery, “The Lighthouse” is one of those films that may not appeal towards mainstream audiences.

Nevertheless, fans of art-house dramas will definitely enjoy “The Lighthouse” and so will movie-goers seeking original entertainment. A sublime piece of filmmaking, it sheds light on important issues facing the world today. At a time when the COVID-19 Pandemic has forced people into solitary confinement, it’s a centuries-old reminder of the dangers posed by social isolation.

4/5 stars

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