Two lighthouse keepers slowly descend into madness in The Lighthouse. Set in the late 19th century, cantankerous lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) arrives at a remote New England island for a four-week term, along with his new underling Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson). Thomas operates the beacon of the lighthouse at night, while Winslow is assigned to maintaining the upkeep during the day, which includes cleaning the cistern and bringing up oil for the light. However, when a terrible storm arrives, delaying the arrival of relief, cabin fever begins to set in, as the two lighthouse keepers begin to go mad.
Robert Eggers follows up his 2015 debut The Witch with this psychological horror story about two lighthouse keepers, who slowly descend into madness. Gloriously shot in black and white on 35mm film, the plot begins with Thomas Wake and Ephraim Winslow arriving for what is supposed to be a month-long term manning an isolated lighthouse. Winslow isn’t fond of being tasked with doing difficult chores, while the very flatulent Thomas sleeps all day and gets drunk before manning the lantern at night. As time goes by, the line between what’s real and what’s imagined gets deeply blurred.
Like The Witch, The Lighthouse is a very slow-burning horror tale that some may find a bit on the dull side. However, the film features an excellent lead performance by Willem Dafoe, going full sea captain, and a passable one by Robert Patterson, whose character of Ephraim Winslow straddles the line of being the film’s hero or villain. I would admit that I dug the more subtle first half of the film more than the more surreal and bizarre craziness of the second, though overall The Lighthouse is still a visually stunning sophomore effort for Robert Eggers.