Absolutely horrifying in its presentation, and even moreso in its delivery, The Lighthouse is chaos and hell manifested on film. Robert Eggers’ followup to The Witch takes no time throwing its viewers into the murky depths of the ocean, which is absolutely unforgiving in this film. From the constant crashes of the waves to the deafening horn on the island in which our characters reside, it seems as if the world presented has absolutely no positives to offer. From the moment Thomas Wake and Ephraim Winslow arrive, their minds may as well have been lost at sea.
Wake and Winslow, played by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson respectively, leave no stone unturned in the fragile minds of their characters. Full of monologues and screaming matches between the two, the constant mood swings are truly something to behold. Without performances like these bolstering The Lighthouse down, it may have been doomed. Luckily, Eggers’ duo couldn’t have been more believable, for as madness seeps further into the souls of these men, their blank stares and shrieks for help only felt more genuine.
Whereas The Witch felt reserved in its storytelling, Eggers seems to have taken a different approach with The Lighthouse. Time is stretched and played with, and as such, it allows for the delusions to begin much quicker. With both seamen being untrustworthy, it forces the viewer to decide whose telling the story properly, and it makes for a more enchanting film across the board. And as the men begin to consume more and more alcohol, among a slew of other substances, the lines between reality and insanity become even blurrier. Whether they are written off as dream sequences or not, they couldn’t be more real to Winslow, and this is crucial to whether or not his slow descent into insanity is deemed unfortunate or understandable.
In a time where lighthouses guided lost sailors to hope and salvation, this lighthouse serves only as a beacon of curiosity and evil for Winslow and Wake. Eggers is able to take an incredibly calculated approach to showing just what the lighthouse can do to the fragile minds of these sailors. Both of the men clearly have demons, and while some are more apparent than others, their inner fears and ideals will come gushing out one way or another. This is a very tense slow burn, and each moment spent in the dark, of which there are money, only add to the layers of dread felt.
At a literal level, there are elements of this film that may seem hard to follow. The dialogue, similarly to The Witch, very much makes this film feel like an authentic period piece. While intentional, it may pull some viewers out of the experience, while others will adore the immersion. Yet at an abstract level, this film reaches new heights and lets each audience members thoughts run wild. Never getting a genuine answer from any characters, as well as Eggers never revealing his hand, creates one massive conspiracy. Nothing can be trusted due to the delusions, but it makes for massively introspective viewing. Eggers certainly knows how to crawl under the skin of his audience, and with The Lighthouse, he makes sure he burrows deep with no chance of removal.