Robert Eddgers again uses folk horror and history to much psychological effect similar to lurid magnetism he employed in The Witch.
The Lighthouse isn’t as strikingly inviting or accessible as that New England-based picture, but a weather-stricken, desolate island imparts a deep sense of isolation. Also, off the New England coast during the Gilded Age is the starting point for an unhurried descent into madness heavily ensconced in claustrophobia.
A gravitating tension may have an iterative quality to it as at least a two=week stint on a tiny island begins with the grizzled, established seafarer Tommy Wake (William Dafoe of At Eternity’s Gate, The Florida Project) doing his Long John Silver opposite Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson of High Life, Good Time, his teen heartthrob Twilight star-making Edward Cullen move than six years removed) just off the boat from Canada.
A stark monochromatic look imposed in grainy fashion helps establish the mood along with a boxy aspect ratio. Not to mention the chains and horns which limit the possibility of illumination in union with an edgy score by composer Mark Korven and the sound designer Damian Volpe.
An imperious, stentorian Wake needs to be in control of the light, as a laconic Winslow receives his laborious commands for toiling while warned about being at apex of the eponymous structure. Listening to the discourse with the period dialect takes some patience as the confrontational bater may be wearying as a kind of delusional slaty, gristly chess match ensues.
A lamp and a carved mermaid are held in great esteem by a craggy boss and his coal-hefting, rain-lashed underling. Then, finally a tempest arrives with the shifting winds which appears to drastically disrupts a continuum after pesky seagulls could unleash deceased seamen wraiths according to Tommy. If provocation and feuding escalates as alcohol brings out the best and worst of two souls, one of whom perhaps having his share of baggage.
If The Lighthouse ladles the atmosphere strong (to the point of “parody”) a verisimilitude to the experience of this kind of existence stamps an authoritative reality whether the lore and freakiness might shut out those unable to bear the chilling neuroses. Eggers effective shooting style lets darkness come to the fore, as well as fantasy (as represented by an alluring Valeriia Karaman), to enable a mythical stoking with hits at a long-ago (or later, from this time frame) silent era. The filmmaking displays some of poet Samuel Coleridge.
An absurd indulgence doesn’t matter to Dafoe and Pattinson who accentuate their roles with vocal range and physicality while sensing the febrile undertow with gritty, genuine flair that produces caliginous comedic results. An uncomfortable, oddly elating experience evocatively arises amidst chaos where the instincts of a genre (and mariners) are as piecing as those crashing waves.