Whatever you think The Lighthouse is, it’s best to think again.
Shot in stark greyscale visuals, Robert Eggers’ atmospheric follow-up to his acclaimed The Witch feels like a silent film put to sound.
Opening on a sombre shot of two haggard lighthouse keepers – both Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson – they arrive by ship to an isolated New England island, assigned to a month-long job maintaining the beacon.
Playing a man named Ephraim, Pattinson spends his hours doing backbreaking, thankless labour to keep the grounds orderly. As Thomas, Dafoe looks and mumbles like an authentic 19th century seafarer, whose sole purpose is to keep the light burning bright.
From the get-go, odd things are afoot. Upon discovering a carved miniature mermaid in his pillow, Ephraim soon has encounters with the real thing: A writhing and screeching half-fish, half-female laying on beds of seaweed.
Equally strange, the film offers visions of demented seagulls, slimy octopus tentacles, and a lighthouse-obsessed Dafoe in the nude, propelling the mood further off-kilter.
As madness takes over both men, the situation and stakes are amplified by a Nor’easter storm that has left them marooned indefinitely.
However, throughout the film’s strange odyssey, Pattinson, Dafoe, and the direction by Eggers shine, exhibiting a stylized balance between anguish and, strangely enough, dark humour.
Wild and luminous in its black and white photography, The Lighthouse strikes similar notes to David Lynch’s cult-classic Eraserhead, where freaky images, otherworldly noises, and bizarre snippets of comic relief collide.
The term “unclassifiable” was made for films like this.