The Lighthouse (2019). Photo: A24

The Lighthouse (2019)

"How long have we been on this rock? Five weeks? Two days? Help me recollect." - Thomas Wake 

The Lighthouse is one of those rare films that defies categorization. Is it horror? Is it a psychological drama? Is it a freakshow of a character study that will haunt your dreams? Yes, yes, and yes. The Lighthouse is startlingly unique, visually stunning, and completely absurd. If you haven't guessed yet - I loved it.

The film's opening conjures the brilliance of early german expressionist films. A boat plows through the swells in stark, grainy black and white, approaching a foggy beacon. We hear ominous warning blasts in the distance.

The boat lands, and the crew drags supplies to a disheveled lighthouse cabin. A bearded Willem Dafoe (lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake) gapes at the sea like some crazed, bearded sailor slash wannabe Poseidon. He has a pipe stuck in his mouth with the bowl facing downward. Robert Pattinson (as Ephraim Winslow) frowns as his delivery boat slowly disappears in the distance. Things are clearly off to a rocky start.

Wake and Winslow are stuck with each other for four weeks (the length of Winslow's contract) with heavy chores and loneliness as their only friends. Wake gives Winslow an ever-growing list of degrading assignments, intent on mistreating him into submission. Grumpiness and wariness wash away as the two become friends and confidants. But when Winslow kills a seagull, things go dark. Wake screams to Winslow, "Bad luck to kill a seabird!" Indeed. Bad luck to kill a seabird.

A ferocious storm blocks Winslow's relief boat, and they realize that Winslow is stuck there for four more weeks, with alcohol and loneliness as their only comrades. Winslow has disturbing, masturbatory fantasies about mermaids, and Wake obsesses over his precious lighthouse beacon way too much. It's like something out of a Guy Maddin film. Shouting, dancing, ominous fog horns, and stark cinematography drives the film's slow descent into madness. It's brilliant.

Loosely based on a blend of a Welsh myth and an unfinished Edgar Allen Poe story, the Lighthouse is a film that works on two levels simultaneously. On one level, it tells the basic story of two "wickies" isolated on a mysterious lighthouse island in the 1890s. On another level, there are mythological references to Prometheus and Proteus, with religious symbolism and supernatural rants galore.

The Lighthouse has a lot to unravel and like a great modern art painting, it is intentionally ambiguous - so I prefer to let the movie's crazed darkness simply roll over me like a New England fog. The film's director, Robert Eggers, produces a distinctive vision with the Lighthouse, a remarkable small film that delivers an enormous punch. This is one not to miss. (A-)

Directed by Robert Eggers
Starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson

Photo: A24

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