Unless you’ve been self-isolating under a rock, you’re familiar with the bizarre horror story we’re currently living. From a killer virus and a toilet paper shortage to UFOs and murder hornets, this year has been one for the history books. What’s next? Godzilla? Or maybe just the cabin fever settling in from nationwide lock-downs and quarantine. Although significantly less extreme than a giant lizard wreaking havoc, long periods of isolation can take a toll. Clearly the ship of boredom sailed weeks ago. Just spend a few minutes browsing TikTok videos and you’ll know what I mean. Some individuals may be quarantining alone while others with a roommate or significant other. Regardless of your situation, hopefully things haven’t been as rough as what’s portrayed in The Lighthouse, the latest dramatic horror from award-winning director Robert Eggers.
From the mind who conceived The Witch (2015) and released through A24, the distribution company known for arthouse horror like Midsommar, it should go without saying that Eggers’ latest work is a slow burn. However, this is an understatement. So, prepare yourself with the same patience that saw you through the spaceship docking scene of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Opening with veteran lighthouse wickie Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe: Spider-Man, The Boondock Saints) and his newly appointed apprentice, portrayed by Robert Pattinson (Twilight), the unlikely pair travel to the small remote New England lighthouse island they will call home for the next four weeks. Be sure to avoid any and all distractions because the closest thing to riveting dialogue in the first six minutes is flatulence from Wake as he makes himself at home. Things take a slightly more interesting turn with Wake’s toast to their first dinner. However, until this point, we’re subjected to nothing but a bleak landscape cinematically enhanced with a black and white picture and the sounds of distant fog horn over the roaring sea. However, despite the excruciating the first act, The Lighthouse slowly begins to take off in very strange ways.
Following Wake’s old fashion seaworthy speech, we see the apprentice’s daily mundane duties, which is to be his life for the next four weeks. Isolated on a rock for a month with an unpredictable, farting old man burdened by dreary, tedious, mind-numbing labor? Shelter at home with Netflix doesn’t sound so bad now, does it? Things take an interesting Edgar Allan Poe-esque twist when the apprentice is warned that killing a seabird is bad luck. And, considering Poe had an unfinished story entitled The Light-House with very similar themes and context, it isn’t too far fetched to believe Eggers used the famous writer’s work as inspiration.
The first hint of sea-induced madness is the taunting of a seagull, not unlike Poe’s classic story The Raven, leading up to a startlingly brutal showdown between this devil bird and the apprentice. However, the psychological toll becomes more evident when hallucinations set in pushing the apprentice further towards insanity. As dark truths come to light, the mystery deepens. It’s clear that everything is not what it seems. As the plot thickens and it becomes evident that inner demons are at play, the question is … is The Lighthouse taking a Scorsese’s Shutter Island angle? A page from the script of David Fincher’s Fight Club? Is anything real? Or maybe it’s something more on par with Jack Torrance’s downward spiral into lunacy in The Shining.
As time slips away becoming meaningless and a storm gradually approaches, Eggers does a phenomenal job of making one constantly question which wickie has retained his senses and which has completely lost his mind. However, this slow burn of a dramatic arthouse mystery/horror would not be the praiseworthy work without composer Mark Korven’s eerie score, Jarin Blaschke’s award-winning cinematography and incredible performances by both Dafoe and Pattinson. While the former wasn’t as surprising, this gives me hope that the latter just may have the talent to pull off the skeptically anticipated upcoming release of The Batman.
Although requiring a level of stoicism for part of the 1 hour and 49 minute runtime, this exemplary feature arguably exceeds Eggers’ previous work. Winning 29 awards and garnering 114 nominations including one Oscar, this poetic addition to the director’s filmography showcases bizarre scenes while eloquently and artistically capturing madness from isolation. A slow burn spiraling into a booze drenched dance of insanity, The Lighthouse is the perfect addition to your quarantine watch list.