VIFF Review: ‘The Lighthouse’ is on a journey into madness and it’s taking you with it

Robert Eggers has made two movies now. Both with predominantly natural light, confident eye and camera, and period set using actual dialogue from sources contemporary to said setting.

The man has a style, is what I’m saying. But whereas The Witch was a good old fashioned horror movie about a family terrorized by their own inadequacies and a witch, The Lighthouse is something different altogether. It’s a chronicle of two men descending into madness, tortured by their utter solitude but also each other’s persistent company.

It’s tense, absurd, it features two powerhouse performances, it’s overwhelming, and it’s an absolute must-see.

When I say powerhouse performances, know that that’s not hyperbole; it’ll be a shame if either Pattison or Dafoe (or both) are passed over for awards love this year. With a few momentary exceptions, the film is entirely them existing, stuck together on a desolate rock tending the mechanisms that keep the lighthouse lamp turning.

Pattinson brings what’s become his signature go-for-broke intensity to the role, starting quiet and reserved and clearly resentful of some past event. At first, he refuses to drink with his new boss, but then, of course,​ he eventually does.

Dafoe is so rusty with sea salt in this I’m surprised that his bum leg doesn’t creak. It certainly wouldn’t be out of place in a role where he’s constantly groaning and drinking and farting and belittling his new charge.

It’s the solitude that gets them​ or at least gets Pattison’s Winslow. Made to work the machinery but never tend to the light itself, he spends his days alone while Dafoe’s Wick sleeps after tending the light all night. Things are tense at first, but once Winslow hilariously and brutally beats a seagull to death, things start to go off the rails.

What follows is is an intense series of events that are, for lack of a better phrase, completely fucked up. Is he really seeing things, or is he hallucinating from the binge drinking he’s now engaged in? Is Wick a master manipulator or a friend reaching out? Are they being tormented by the old gods of the sea, or is it just really rainy? How long have they been stuck on the island for? 6 weeks? 7 months? 2 days? By the time these questions are asked, it’s well past the point where we could answer. Among all of this is an ever-present erotic tension that hangs over the whole affair.

It’s hard to know what is real and what isn’t, and that’s the point. We’re watching Winslow go mad in real-time, and the movie wants to bring us along for the ride. Between the hallucinatory visuals, the score constantly ramping up the paranoia, and the fog horn blasting near constantly in the background, I think it’s amazing it didn’t succeed. I say this honestly; I felt overwhelmed coming out of this movie. Shell shocked might be a better way to put it.

You should definitely see this movie. I’m one to let you know you should see every movie to decide for yourself, but this one, in particular, I have no idea how anyone will react to it. Between the performances, the stark black and white cinematography, and the absolutely overwhelming sound, though, you should definitely see this movie.


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