(US/Brazil - 2019)
Directed by Robert Eggers. Written by Robert Eggers and Max Eggers. Cast: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, Valeriia Karaman. (R, 109 mins)
"How long have we been on this rock? Five weeks? Two days? Help me to recollect."
2016's THE WITCH heralded a unique new voice in writer/director Robert Eggers, who fashioned his feature debut as a deeply unsettling 17th-century-set slow-burner involving witchcraft, religious hysteria, and one extremely sinister goat. Eggers could've gone in any number of directions in the horror genre, but like his contemporary Ari Aster (HEREDITARY, MIDSOMMAR), he gets even weirder with his long-awaited follow-up THE LIGHTHOUSE, which is bizarre and defiantly non-commercial even by the standards of distributor A24. Sharing writing credit with his brother Max, Eggers' tale of isolation and madness on a distant island off the coast of New England in the late 19th century utilizes the journals of Herman Melville and assorted lighthouse keepers and crusty old sea salts (much like THE WITCH's dialogue was taken in part from documents from the era that it depicts), and showcases a staggeringly realistic depiction of the time and place in all its unforgiving brutality. This is the kind of film where you can feel the dampness and smell the mud, piss, and shit. Eggers veers as far away from commercial expectation as possible, shooting in black-and-white and in the archaic aspect ratio of 1.19:1, which hasn't been regularly deployed since the Weimar-era heyday of German Expressionism, Fritz Lang, and Dr. Mabuse. The tight framing only adds to the sense of isolation and claustophobia in what's essentially a two-character piece where both protagonists' grip on reality and sanity grows more tenuous and frayed by the day.
Black Phillip--that hangs around the lighthouse and seems to have no patience for anyone's bullshit. Wake warns Winslow to leave the gull alone, and that harming one is bad luck in their line of work, and all the while, tensions mount between the two men, with Winslow growing more concerned with the fact that his predecessor in the job died under mysterious circumstances (Wake says he simply went insane and died), and Wake wanting to more about his enigmatic subordinate's shady past.
feeling let down that it wasn't a generically gore-soaked, jump-scare horror movie, then THE LIGHTHOUSE will probably just actively piss you off. It's hard telling where Eggers will go from here (may I suggest an expressionist silent film with a crazy-eyed and super-toothy Dafoe going full Emil Jannings?), but THE WITCH and THE LIGHTHOUSE have firmly established him as one of today's most gifted filmmakers.