Of all the movies I expected to love at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, The Lighthouse surely wasn’t one of them. I have mixed feelings about Robert Eggers’ first feature The Witch and on the surface, I couldn’t be less interested in a story about two men farting, fighting, and masturbating. But one of the best things about attending a film festival is having a movie surprise and delight you from the very second the lights go down.
The Lighthouse, set at the turn of the 19th century, starts when Ephraim (Robert Pattinson) is hired to help Thomas (Willem Dafoe) tend to the secluded and titular lighthouse. With the days full of endless labour and claustrophobia, both men become antagonistic as they begin their respective descents into madness.
“The Lighthouse is a complex character study of two damaged men and the ways in which that damage manifests itself.”
Here’s where I should admit I’m biased because, quite frankly, give me a movie about a downward spiral any day. Being a person? Hard! Being a person around other people? Impossible! At its core, The Lighthouse is a complex character study of two damaged men and the ways in which that damage manifests itself. That being said, the script is also loaded with delicious gallows humour that will have you laughing throughout.
Given mostly futile tasks to do, Ephraim resembles Greek mythology’s Sisyphus, a fallen king damned for all of eternity to roll a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down again. We soon learn that Ephraim’s life has long lacked meaning and we know from the beginning that he definitely won’t find what he’s looking for here. His frustration, sexual and otherwise, is palpable. As for Thomas, he can’t conquer the elements or his loneliness but he can conquer Ephraim by tearing him to shreds at every possible opportunity with condescension and cruelty.
The Lighthouse functions very much like a play. It pulls from Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, Albee. It’s full of crazed monologues, venomous arguing, and a constantly shifting power dynamic between Ephraim and Thomas. If you have a soft spot for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (I’m convinced that Elizabeth Taylor would make an amazing Thomas), you’ll have a soft spot for this. As the Odd Couple from hell, Pattinson and Defoe both give explosive, uninhibited performances that are unlike anything else at the festival. The results are electrifying.
Shot in black and white with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, The Lighthouse is a stunning piece of technical filmmaking. The sound design can only be described as cacophonous, while Jarin Blaschke’s stark, cold cinematography works to further exemplify two men at odds with themselves, their environment, and each other. By the end, you can practically feel the salt on your skin. You can almost smell the baked beans and flatulence in the air. This is a movie that assaults all of your senses at once to great effect.
“…a stunning piece of technical filmmaking.”
The Lighthouse is stuffed to the brim with references, metaphors, and scheming seagulls, while still leaving a lot up for interpretation. It might not all make sense, but if you just ride the tumultuous wave, there’s a lot of fun to be had trying to figure it out.
The Lighthouse celebrated its North American Premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, September 7th. TIFF 2019 runs September 5th-September 15th in Toronto, Canada and you can find all of our reviews, interviews, and news HERE, as well as on Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!