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The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse
It's a deeply disturbing film with zero re-watch appeal, but 2019's The Lighthouse, a chilling look at the effect of isolation on sanity had this reviewer simultaneously riveted, repulsed, confused, frightened, but never bored.

The setting is New England in the 1890's where we watch Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), a veteran lighthouse keeper, return to the lighthouse he worked at before with a new co-worker named Thomas Howard (Robert Pattinson). As we watch Wake and Howard settle into their new assignment, it becomes apparent that Wake is in charge (or at least he thinks so), treating Howard like a slave and warning him of the dangers of the assignment, putting special emphasis on the fact that Howard is never to enter the part of the lighthouse where the light is located. It's not long before the isolation of this assignment has the viewer questioning the sanity of these two people or whether or not the entire thing is a living nightmare.

Director and co-screenwriter Robert Eggars has crafted a creepy story of two people trying to cling to their sanity, without ever providing the viewer with definitive proof as to whether or not what we're seeing is just a hellacious nightmare. We're not surprised when it's just a matter of Wake working Howard to the bone or even when he has to force him to drink. We don't even question the fact that Wake only treats Howard like a human being when they're sharing a meal. but when these men start pumping each other about there respective pasts, we begin to wonder if anything we're witnessing is actually happening. I love the way Eggars establishes the isolation of the story with that long shot of ship that dropped the men sailing away from the island

The screenplay by Eggars and his brother Max is rich with with a lot of Irish slang that lends an air of mystery to what the characters are talking about, but not so much that our interest wanes. The Eggars have crafted a two-character story that features brief appearances by other characters that are never legitimized to the point that we're not sure if they are just hallucinations of the two central characters. Wake's warning to Howard of the bad luck associated with harming a sea gull, comes frighteningly to life, a little reminiscent of Melanie Daniels in The Birds.

Films like The Shining and Cast Away come to mind as this frightening look at the effect of isolation never commits to any kind reality, despite some ugly and frightening imagery that often turns the stomach and keeps the viewer wondering throughout whether or not we're seeing is really happening. This reviewer was equally fascinated and repulsed by this film and as much I appreciated the craftsmanship, there's no way I could sit through this film again. The movie is beautifully photographed in black and white, its cinematography earning the film its only Oscar nomination. Four-time Oscar nominee Dafoe offers another Oscar-worthy turn in a role he truly loses himself in, as he did playing Van Gogh in At Eternity's Gate and Pattinson brings the same intensity to this role as he did to his role in Good Time. This an ugly and haunting story but worth the watch...once.