Two lighthouse keepers (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson) arrive on a desolate island in New England for a four-week stint tending to a lighthouse. However, tempers begin to fray as the two men grow increasingly isolated, and madness begins to slip into their daily lives...
When it comes to something like 'The Lighthouse', there's always an element of wondering how you can square recommending something with how it made you feel afterwards. To be clear, this is an exquisitely made, stunningly executed story about loneliness, rage, isolation, desperation and controlled farting. There isn't one second of this where director Robert Eggers is leaving anything to chance, nor Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson not giving every ounce of their capability to it all. You stand back from 'The Lighthouse', and you can understand the level of skill, craft, intent and mastery it takes to do something like this.
There are no moments in it, however, which could be described as entertaining in any kind of broad sense of the word. It is a dark, disturbing tale of the limits people are pushed to when they're alone, how we tear ourselves apart at the seams given the first opportunity. It is bleak, uncompromising, and utterly compelling. Yet, can you recommend it? If you're brave enough, then yes. It deserves, at the very least, an attempt and if you can overcome your own prejudices against a movie like this, it's an incredible watch.
It is upsetting to think that Joaquin Phoenix is all but certain to walk away with all the actor gongs going this awards season when Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson deliver two of their most affecting, challenging performances ever. Leaving aside all the New England sailor-speak that makes up their dialogue, what you have is two actors forced to do battle with one another for screentime and yet somehow, one can't exist without the other.
Pattinson's character is all sullen, angered and downbeat whereas Dafoe is all wide-eyed mania, egregiously long monologues that evokes the likes of Herman Melville. The two extremes, clearly drawn, is fascinating to watch bounce and batter off one another and at no point does it feel like it's over-the-top. You just accept that it's going to be like this from the very get-go, and somehow making something subtle out of it feels like a waste of time.
It's hard to point to one specific thing in 'The Lighthouse' that stands out as it's all so much to take in, and as much as any IMAX blockbuster out there, this deserves to be seen in a cinema. You have to lock yourself into a dark room with 'The Lighthouse' and let it all wash over you. Trying to stop and start it, watching it on a shitty phone screen with headphones, it's a disservice to it. Even the square-box aspect ratio feels like it's an important, considered choice. Your eyes have nowhere to wander, and the cramped screen just adds to the tension that's playing out on screen.
There is something so bold, so uncompromising about it that you can't not be taken away by it. The story itself is one that has no real beginning, middle or end. The two characters are dropped on the island and the waves that surround them beat over them and the audience with each passing minute. You're left marooned, covered in water, and terrorised by the end of 'The Lighthouse', but at no point do you think to yourself that it wasn't worth it.
An incredible, desperately weird, frightening masterpiece.