March 12, 2020  (Web Review)

The Lighthouse

Lionsgate, 109 min., R, DVD: $19.99, Blu-ray: $24.99, Jan. 7

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

Robert Eggers’ second feature shares with his enigmatic debut The Witch an uncanny ability to create a sense of wonder—pleasurable but eerie, and sometimes positively frightening. The Lighthouse dramatizes the psychological effects of isolation but does so with a raft of symbols and narrative oddities that constantly keep the viewer off balance. On the coast of Maine in the late nineteenth century, two men arrive to operate the titular structure for a month—older, experienced Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), a fellow as craggy as the rock on which they will reside, with a habit of speaking histrionically in quasi-Biblical cadences redolent of Melville, and young Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), a reticent fellow with a recessive air that suggests a difficult past and emotional trauma. They have an uneasy relationship, with the imperious Wake forcing Winslow to do all the grunt work while he presides over the enormous, circling light. Wake constantly taunts Winslow, while the younger man seethes at being kept away from the beam, which seems to endow the grizzled old coot with a mysterious power. Winslow is also tormented by a meddlesome seagull—a bird thought to host the ghosts of dead mariners—and is haunted by visions of a seductive mermaid. When the pair’s departure from the site is delayed by a storm, things fall apart as chaos and violence erupt. Shot in stark black-and-white and a boxy aspect ratio, The Lighthouse is a brooding, hallucinatory exercise in neo-Gothic gloom that threatens to slip into unintentional absurdity but never quite does. The mesmerizing, mystifying film might baffle you, but its visceral impact is undeniable. Recommended. (F. Swietek)