The long awaited second movie from Robert Eggers – the man who gave us 2015’s impressive skin crawler The Witch – The Lighthouse is yet another period movie exercise in a slow burning character piece where paranoia and secrets cause a steady free fall into a fully fledged insanity. Creeping as slow as a mollusc whose google maps app is on the blink and featuring transformative performances that are nothing short of Oscar worthy, watching films like The Lighthouse make me nervous nevertheless. Oh, it’s not because the movies are “too scary” or anything – no, I’m always a little worried that I’m going in to watch a crafted, eclectic, VERY off-beat movie that maybe some members of the audience simply won’t get.
I dont mean that to sound snobbish or arrogant; it’s just that trippy, art house style flicks where virtually nothing happens and everything you see is open up to wild interpretation sometimes can get horribly misunderstood by an audience if their going in for easier, more traditional “scares”. However, The Lighthouse, while more akin to a two man play, is a fascinating ride into how mind numbing drudgery mixed with a cocktail of barely suppressed guilt and the type of booze that could melt an tortoise is a sure fire recipe for a complete and violent mental breakdown.
Wake and Winslow are dropped off at a remote lighthouse to start their 4 week shift manning and maintaining the thing and immediately the two men start off rubbing each other the wrong way. The older, in-charge Wake, a boozy, salty sea dog type who renders every tall yarn he spins 50% unintelligible and peppers every social interaction with perfectly timed farts, goads and bullies the younger man whenever he can, deeming Winslow unfit to maintain the actual light and instead gives him all the back breaking, moribund work to be done.
Winslow attacks the work with stoic dignity but soon the isolation starts to gets to him and paranoia starts to bubble to the surface after numerous run-ins with a shifty looking seagull (uncomfortable eye contect with animals seem to be a go to for Eggers) kicks off hallucinations about being seduced by a mermaid washed up on the rocks. Growing ever more distrustful of his work partner’s hogging of the light (does Winslow really witness a nude Wake worshipping the bulb and what’s with all the tentacles?)
However, tensions seem to defuse when their 4 week tenure is up and they celebrate by getting well and truly hammered but their ride back to civilisation is cancelled due to the onset of a massive storm and logic and sanity go clean out the porthole shaped window.
As the pair weather the storm by getting lethally pissed on whatever throat stripping rot gut Wick has stashed around the island, their dynamic starts to drunkenly stagger back and forth, as unsteady as the men themselves. They fight, they bond, they fight again, time ceases to have all meaning and the two start giving voices to their innermost feelings which sets in motion a full on breakdown, but which one has snapped first? Is there really some sort of eldritch, Lovecraftian conspiracy that has something to do with Wake’s insistence that only he is allowed to tend to the light or is it Winslow who has gone utterly and irrevocably batshit.
The Lighthouse is a movie crammed with metaphor – the fact that we’re watching a film about a hideously toxic relationship between two dudes that’s set inside a building shaped like a huge dick is obviously no accident – and for all we know NOTHING we’re seeing is actually what’s going on. While I personally don’t find movies like this have massive rewatch value (for example, I LOVE Under The Skin, yet I’ve only seen it once), the winding, twisting and wholly unpredictable journey to a man losing his damn mind is an utterly engrossing ride and regardless of if I ever settle down to watch it again, it’s a road I hugely appreciated that I’ve travelled.
The two leads are truly resplendent in their transformative, highly unglamorous roles (Willem Dafoe never had to boink the hole in a mattress in Speed 2 – or at least not in the version I’ve seen) and are 100% committed to bringing this twist tale to life. Not as committed as Eggers, though, who makes truly fascinating choices with his deliberately murky black and white cinematography and 4:3 ratio making the rain-lashed 1890’s set events seen horribly feasible.
It’s a glaring understatement that any film that features Robert Pattison picturing a mermaid’s vagina while he furiously masturbates in the rain is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those tired of garish blockbusters and empty rom-coms, this is a one way ticket to a fabulously dreary mindfuck.
Being bored has never been so fantastically unerving.