Genre: Psychological Thriller and Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.
Release Date: November 1st, 2019 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Robert Eggers Actors: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson
t begins with extended seconds of blackness and then murky grays, doing its best to provide visual discomfort and disorientation as two shadowy figures aboard a boat approach a lighthouse. Movement takes place in extreme areas of the screen, such as along the very top or deep in a corner, while the music tends to include jolting foghorn blares and the eerily whistling wind. Plus, the unusual, boxlike aspect ration and muted black-and-white cinematography create claustrophobia and fuzziness.
It’s a perfectly spooky setting for flatulent Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and reserved newcomer Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), two lonesome souls stationed on a seemingly abandoned outpost for four long weeks. Corridors are blanketed in inky darkness, with sharp, contrasting beams of light cutting into the picture at unsettling times. The continual obfuscation is a grand idea in such a tiny, simple arena – one with just two cast members, a couple of rooms, and scant props. In short time, the younger, inexperienced, subordinate Ephraim, and the older, disgruntled, badgering Thomas figure out ways to annoy one another, bicker constantly, and steadily go insane from the isolation and fraying nerves.
“Didn’t picture you a readin’ man.” After sorting out duties and trading insults, Winslow immediately has a bizarre, hallucinatory dream about death and a mermaid. Even during the day, he’s plagued by ill omens, such as a one-eyed seagull. And it might have something to do with the fact that the previous lighthouse keeper went mad, believing the place was under some sort of enchantment.
“Doldrums – eviler than the devil. The only medicine is drink.” It’s all very weird, psychosexual, comical, surreal, maddening, and even nonsensical at times (merging a bit of Bunuel and Deren with Lynch and Jodorowsky). But the dialogue is clever and hysterical (and feverishly poetic), maniacally augmenting just how well Dafoe and Pattinson play off each other. It’s a brilliant battle of wits, pitting the sensibleness of Winslow against the stubbornness and kookiness of Wake; and Dafoe and Pattinson are sensational. Although they don’t quite disappear into their roles, they embrace the eccentricities of their characters to a staggering degree. The setup, the uncomfortable proximity, and the verbal spars are electrifying. “You’re so mad you know not up from down.”
“Don’t be losin’ your head now.” The more that audiences see of these salty tars mentally unwinding, the more fascinating – and absurd – it becomes. Reality merges with fantasy and then back again to the imperishable mania as the days and nights grow indecipherable and a storm rages ceaselessly. Which of the two is the crazy one? Or which one is crazier? Peeking through the disturbing imagery, morbid hallucinations, and crumbling identities is an engaging character study and a fiendish mix of drama and psychological horror; by the end, everything might just be a figment of someone’s imagination. Yet it’s thoroughly unique in its deliriousness. “I’ve got it all figured out!”
– Mike Massie