If nautical nonsense be something you wish, then “The Lighthouse” is a must-sea. This latest dramatic thriller from co-writer/director Robert Eggers (“The Witch”) is one of the most bizarre movie experiences of 2019.
Four-time Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe could very well walk the plank, er – red carpet, again for his performance as salty, old lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake. His new partner is Ephraim Winslow (played by Robert Pattinson). A drifter, this is Winslow’s first experience on lighthouse duty. The duo will spend four weeks on a small New England island, keeping the beam bright for ships sailing the Atlantic. At least that’s the plan.
“The Lighthouse” is set in the 1890s. Eggers presents the film in black-and-white, with a narrow aspect ratio. His goal is for audiences to feel like they’re trapped in the tight quarters with these two men, who mirror a certain crustacean and his young fry cook (if they went completely off the rails). He succeeds.
About halfway on its journey “The Lighthouse” begins to chart a new course. Cabin fever, alcohol abuse, boredom and a host of other problems set in. The change in tone allows Dafoe and Pattinson to let loose, as these two sailors literally go off the deep end. Scenes range from puzzling to wacky to horrifying. Dafoe has the big showcase moments, delivering several jaw-dropping monologues. However, Pattinson absolutely holds his own as the simmering subordinate who eventually can’t take it anymore.
The script does get a tad hokey in spots. But the majority of the material is quite plausible, considering the circumstances. The end credits include a notation that much of the dialogue came from actual lighthouse keepers, taken from the works of Herman Melville. And Dafoe and Pattinson get bonus credits for surviving what had to be, at times, a challenging, unpleasant filming experience.
Part mystery, part noir, part horror (and entirely haunting and looney), “The Lighthouse” is a blood, sweat and tears cinematic showdown (for both the characters and the actors). It’s an unpleasant film that’s well worth experiencing.
My biggest takeaway? The next I encounter a seagull, I’m simply gonna slowly back away.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Lighthouse” gets a B+.
Running Time: 109 min.