4 Stars

After making a big splash with both critics and audiences with his directorial debut “The Witch”, writer/director Robert Eggers has returned with the anticipated nautical nightmare, “The Lighthouse”.

Shot on actual 35mm Black and White film, “The Lighthouse” flawlessly replicates the era of 1920’s silent Black and White films, taking inspiration from classics like F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” and even early Bergman.
Following two Lighthouse keepers, Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Wake (Willem Dafoe), who become marooned on their small island when a brutal storm hits. Things take a turn for the worst when both men begin to slowly turn on each other and become increasingly filled with paranoia and a severe case of cabin fever.

Eggers once again plays with the psychology of the characters, leaving much of what happens on screen up to your interpretation. As we follow these two men, it becomes evident early on that we’re witnessing a psychological descent into madness, very similar to “The Shining”. Pattinson’s Winslow begins to have severe hallucinations of a sultry Mermaid, something moving around at the top of the Lighthouse and is endlessly tormented by a seagull that seemingly stalks his every move.

Even when you think you know where the story is going, Eggers and co-writer Max Eggers (his brother) effectively twists the story around, keeping things fresh and surprising. Dafoe’s Wake tells tales of mysticism and superstition and “The Lighthouse” actually plays out like one of those sea shanties. The screenplay juggles an assortment of themes that tackle identity, repressed desires, past sins and masculinity; all with a searing confidence and clarity.

The craftsmanship on display is downright astonishing. Robert Eggers further proves himself a cinematic force to be reckoned with. His command over every aspect of this film is first rate. Although the script is filled with thick, heavy dialogue, Eggers’ visual eye is so compelling, you could watch the film with the sound off and still be able to follow along.

“The Lighthouse” is without question one of the finest looking films all year. The unique visual aesthetic feels so authentic, you never feel like you’re watching a film made in the year 2019. The gothic setting along with immaculate production detail and awe-inducing cinematography by Jarin Blaschke create an environment that feels absorbing and tactile. The wet, dreary landscape begins to take its toll on the characters and we as audience members can practically feel the surroundings ourselves. The claustrophobic 1:19:1 aspect ratio makes us feels like we’re trapped in the decayed minds of the characters, leading the eerie atmosphere to fully grasp the viewer.

Dafoe and Pattinson give two of the best performances you’ll see all year. Both actors are giving their all, while delivering nuanced performances that help further develop their respective characters. Dafoe, looking like an even more crazed version of Lon Cheney Jr’s Wolfman, is giving some of his most vibrant and manic work to date. Wake’s thick, Captain Ahab-esque accent is extremely in-your-face, but thanks in part to the writing and Dafoe’s magnetic performance, the character never feels cartoonish, but rather grounded. Pattinson, continuing his run as one of the most diverse actors around, gives an exceptional performance here. Winslow is the more quiet, reserved character of the two, but throughout the film, his layers slowly peel back, revealing more details and further depth. There’s a savage intensity between the two characters that is absolutely stunning to witness. The scenes of the two men bickering and fighting feels like a demented mix between “12 Angry Men” and “Step Brothers”.

“The Lighthouse” is impeccably layered and dense, that it works on multiple levels. Perhaps most surprising of all, it works exceptionally well as a black comedy. To say what some of the biggest laughs are would give away spoilers, but one particular scene involving a Seagull is the type of humor that will make you laugh out loud, then gasp in horror at what you just laughed at. The sound design particularly helps in making some of the crazier moments even more effective.

The brilliant score by Mark Korven utilizes the setting perfectly and doesn’t feel so much like a film score, but like the films pulse. The editing by Louise Ford is another shining aspect of the film. “The Lighthouse” moves at its own pace, sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly, but it always feels like it’s moving at the right speed. This is a hypnotic, surreal trip of unhinged madness and that trip surely has its ups and downs. Each story beat is carefully plotted and given time to grow, that character decisions and turns in the plot all feel organic and properly developed.

“The Lighthouse” is one of the most unique films to arrive to theaters in years and it’s one of the absolute best. The conversations you’re bound to have after watching the film are sure to be nearly as rewarding as the actual film. The subtle details and the characters and plot will lead to immensely gratifying rewatches down the road.

Despite just two films in his repertoire, Robert Eggers solidifies himself as one of American cinemas most unique and original voices. With a gifted hand in storytelling and a visual eye unlike most, Eggers is sure to become one of the essential filmmakers of this era.