After the mysterious death or disappearance of his predecessor, a new wickie (Robert Pattinson) on an island lighthouse in the 1890s becomes concerned about the mental stability of the lighthouse keeper (Willem Dafoe). Both men, of course, harbour secrets. Robert and Max Eggers co-wrote and directed this strange little film, in which two men, isolated together, lose their minds. It saw release just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic.
As in The Witch, the script immerses itself in the language and beliefs of the characters and their era. We get a close-up view of men who are a stew of issues and repression, living before we had the modern language for such things. We even plunge into their dreams and delusions: Lovecrafted merfolk and other phantoms dragged up from fathoms deep. Sometimes the approach works well. Other times it left me cold. Even when the characters are so far out of their skulls you do not know whether to be horrified or laugh (I did both), they remain specific, disturbed men inhabiting an era now beyond our reach.
Eggers shot The Lighthouse in 1.19:1 on 35 mm black and white film and cameras equipped with vintage lenses from the 1930s. Yeah, it's that kind of film, but the results suggest nineteenth century photography while evoking the sense of sinister, otherworldly forces, just out of reach of our perception.
We have, without question, the best-filmed island and lighthouse in cinematic history.
The film draws inspiration from an unfinished Edgar Allan Poe story and the Smalls Lighthouse Incident (1801), the event which directly inspired the 2016 British film, The Lighthouse. The filmmakers take the material in their own deranged directions, but it's fair to say this is not an entirely original work.
It is, however, unlike anything else you're likely to see.