by Rob DiCristino
Squeezed within the edges of a cramped, 1.19:1 aspect ratio and captured on black-and-white 35 millimeter film, Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse feels at first like an obnoxious escalation of the themes and style established in his breakthrough feature, 2015’s The Witch. The trailer reads like A24 with the gloves off — uber douchebaggery of the highest order. And it doesn’t lie: like many eagerly anticipated follow-ups (Jordan Peele’s Us comes to mind), Eggers’ sophomore effort is riskier and more ambitious than his first. It’s also (like Us) far less accessible than its predecessor, an idiosyncratic tone poem of madness that revels in the kind of pretension and inscrutability that would have made it unfilmable if not for its creators’ aforementioned success. It is those things, there’s no doubt. But it’s also more. Co-written with Max Eggers and photographed in exquisite chiaroscuro by Jarin Blaschke, The Lighthouse might be most succinctly described as the raucous marriage of F. W. Murneau’s Nosferatu to David Lynch’s Eraserhead. If that sounds like your jam, read on.
It’s only by following The Lad and The Wickie into the depths of metaphysical hell that we get our answers. Like The Witch before it, The Lighthouse is a claustrophobic period piece driven by revelatory lead performances and staged with the kind of delicate care that makes it feel almost otherworldly. Willem Dafoe’s face was made to be lit by nautical candlelight, and Blaschke’s palette beautifully accents his oscillations between jovial scallywag and deranged lunatic. Robert Pattinson continues to distance himself from his heartthrob roots with yet another genuine, affecting, and sympathetic turn. His Lad is just as dangerous and unstable as The Wickie, we soon discover, but the veneer of stability is more pronounced. We share his disgust, his frustration, his apathy, and then — so quickly that we almost fail to realize it — his confusion and horror. While Dafoe steals his share of scenes, this is Pattinson’s film.
Midsommar), Robert Eggers is establishing himself as a defining voice in modern horror by pushing his audiences beyond our genre comfort zones, by mixing and matching the folk with the baroque, the romantic with the obscene. Call it “Elevated Horror” if you want (though it’ll earn you a dirty look from me), but The Lighthouse is a world-class reminder of why we embrace the genre in the first place, a bold display of form and function so old-fashioned that it’ll seem almost experimental. Except for all the farting. That’s just fun.