MADNESS AND THE DARKEST HEARTS
Movie Review – The Lighthouse
Review by Ray Schillaci
It feels like we are living in some of the bleakest times with divisions turning into shadowy chasms and our very souls threatened by so much. Some movies are reflecting the anxiety and torment of the human condition at its very worst. Ari Aster’s Midsommar depicts grief and the most damning of relationships. Todd Phillips gives DC’s famed villain a Scorsese-like treatment while bringing about the state of mental health care and its downfall in Joker. Now, writer/director Robert Eggers and his co-writer, Max Eggers, tops them all by venturing down into the darkest region of madness and isolation with The Lighthouse.
Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson play Thomas Wake and Ephraim Winslow (already love the names), two salty lighthouse keepers that have their four week stint turn into a much longer journey into oblivion after a severe storm. Where do they go from there? Ration supplies, pass the time telling tall tales, get blotto on kerosene and honey when there’s nothing much else to do except f*** with each other’s minds while imagining the haunts of mermaids and sea monsters.
On the surface, this may sound like a worthy horror flick to catch up with. But, if any of you are familiar with writer/director Robert Eggers last descent into hell with The Witch, you should be well aware that the man is unconventional with the way he weaves a tale. Not only will it take patience, but perhaps a strong stomach, a willingness to see things you may wish you could unsee and an incredible attention to detail.
Then, there is the brilliance of Dafoe and Pattinson. Going in, we know what to expect from Dafoe. From his incredible turn as the kind Sgt. Elias in Platoon to the young frustrated and optimistic FBI agent in Mississippi Burning, throughout his career he would prove remarkably versatile and more daring with every role; the real-life vampire Max Schreck – Shadow of the Vampire, the every-man schlub Bobby Hicks in The Florida Project, taking a leap of faith with Martin Scorsese while playing the Son of God in The Last Temptation of Christ, and going out on a limb with filmmaker Lars von Trier in an experimental horror film where he played his wife’s therapist after the unfortunate accidental death of their child.
Placing Robert Pattinson, best remembered as the glittery vampire from the Twilight series, alongside this powerhouse of an actor almost seems unfair. But, Pattinson holds his own and literally dances with this devil daring him to keep up. It may be the best team up since Sir Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine in 1973’s Sleuth. And, in a way, that could also be a shame, since both actors canceled each other out that year when it came time for an Oscar win. Pattinson has discarded his pretty boy looks for an oversized mustache the Smith Brothers would be jealous of and rugged stubble to go along with his haunted look. His slow descent into madness is riveting with every turn of the screw that Dafoe provides.
The production is exquisite in its execution, from the meticulous sound that engulfs us with the storm, the workings of the lighthouse, the haunting cries of the gulls, and the ravings of the mad men. All this plays into the phantasmagorical tale that is depicted with a harsh and grim lens by cinematographer Jaren Blaschke, capturing the mania and hallucinations in black and white in a daring move to capture the era (with an aspect ratio of 1.19:1). Some may feel that the film echoes David Lynch, but Blaschke’s lens is far more akin to the great German expressionists of the past. Couple all of this with dialogue straight out of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, with heavy accents and sailor lingo and you end up with by far the most daring film of 2019.
Is it a perfect date movie? Absolutely NOT! Discretion is heavily advised before putting yourself through such an experience. Some are declaring it one of the best films of the year. And, for those expecting Downton Abbey, you will be outraged. The Lighthouse may be best described as David Lynch on mushrooms or a bad acid trip that may give you PTSD. Or, you may see past all the weirdness, appreciate its brilliance, and continue to thank distributor A24 for continuing to take chances and allowing artists to flex their independent voices.
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Release Date: October 18, 2019
Run Time: 109 Minutes