Welcome back to another Friday Nightmare Reviews, wherein I tell you what you could be watching instead of going through the same tedious routines on the internet while your mind slowly collapses in on itself from boredom. Hey, at least it’s not being at work, right? And really, even if you like your job, isn’t it nice to get away from it at the end of the day? Isn’t it the best feeling to just throw off those shackles and say that you’re done with everything and just leave? Yeah, today’s movie isn’t going to have such relief to share because today’s movie tells us what would happen if you were stuck at your job indefinitely with your least likable coworker. Add into the mix a large does of Greek mythology and you have a horrific experience like no other.
For those of you who are regulars around here, you might notice that this film has a little bit more shine on it compared to what I normally review. In fact, you might notice it’s the shiniest, newest film that I’ve reviewed to date. Far from being some schlocky discount bin reject from some lost studio that died back in the 80s, The Lighthouse was an art house horror suspense film released in November of 2019. Directed by Robert Eggers of The VVitch fame, if you are already a bit familiar with his work, you can hazard a guess at what you’re in for. On the other hand, if you are coming in cold, be prepared, as this film is going to take you on a journey despite the fact that it’s basically about two men who are stuck on an island. And speaking of those two men, you might have heard of these actors before. Willem Dafoe plays the crusty old lighthouse attendant named Thomas Wake and his newest assistant is a bright eyed younger man named Ephram Winslow, played by Robert Pattinson. If that second name is eliciting some minor snickering and some immature ideas of sparkling and teen drama, wow do I have a film for you to watch coming up. If you’re here for a peek at something you think is going to be a good for sharpening up those MST3K skills you’ve been waiting to work on, I can assure you that this is not really a film to do that with. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t funny parts but they are usually sandwiched between some massively fucked up moments that leave you feeling a bit on the crazy side yourself. But let’s get into a little bit more of a dive before we give away too much.
If you’ve heard anything about this film at all, it’s probably that it’s art house-y and that it was filmed at a different ratio, making the screen smaller. This was on purpose for reasons that become immediately clear once our two lighthouse keepers, or wickies, get to the island. The more astute might also note that this film only comes in the old timey vision of black and white. This really adds to the atmosphere, making those dim, dreary days feel even more oppressive by drawing attention to the shadows and the shades of grey that get even deeper when the inevitable storm comes to call. I’m tackling this aspect of the film first because it’s the most obvious part of it that you get just by looking at the trailer. This film was made to be artistic and that is going to immediately apparent from the first scene. There is some spectacular cinematography at play here and you could honestly take screenshots of certain scenes and hang them on your wall. The thing is, that is also your calling card to figure out exactly how okay you are with watching a film that is most assuredly going to make you uncomfortable and will likely get confusing if you’re not up on your mythologies and your expertise on maritime accents.
All of this now established, let’s get to that plot that I teased earlier. I wasn’t lying when I said that it really is about two men who are brought to an island to attend to a lighthouse for what is supposed to be four weeks. It’s set up right from the start that these are two men who aren’t really keen on each other. Thomas Wake, the older of the two, is a seasoned sea man who is a bit crusty in his mannerisms and immediately takes advantage of his position to essentially bully the new guy, Ephram Winslow. For his part, Winslow is struggling with more than just his new position and its unwelcome roommate that this job has stuck him with for a month. There’s a lot that he’s not saying throughout the film but you know for certain that he’s hiding something. Despite not really knowing exactly what kind of man Winslow is and whether or not he’s someone you should be sympathizing with, he still comes off as being more likable than Wake. The elder of the two doesn’t even learn his younger roommate’s name until the night before they are supposed to leave the island and is constantly hounding and criticizing him for everything he does. Added to the tension between the two is how viciously Wake guards his post as the keeper of the lighthouse. Despite the rule book stating that the two men are supposed to share duties in staying up all night to tend to the light, Wake forbids Winslow to tend to the light and becomes irate at any suggestion that he give up his position. Conveniently, this means that all the menial shit work of tending to the upkeep of the house and the chores of the island is something he gets to sleep his way through as well. It doesn’t take long, however, for Winslow to realize that what seems like an unfair power imbalance due to him being the new kid is actually a much more disturbing obsession. And then there’s a storm that comes along those four weeks get a whole lot fucking longer.
One of the strengths of this film is something we’ve seen a lot of coming out of A24 studios lately and this is the emphasis on mood and actors who can really hold a scene with little to no dialogue. Dafoe and Pattinson have to convey a lot through their acting and the context with very little being revealed directly. There’s a lot left to the imagination and some of those questions brought up in the film are never really answered in a way that leaves you satisfied. Don’t get me wrong, you might get an answer but it might not quite click into place and given how reliable the leads aren’t, you never are aware of what you’re looking at. This is what gives the film such a sense of unease. You don’t know if the two men are actually telling the truth or if they’re stuck telling the truth to the best of their ability or if they are outright lying. Given how drunk they start getting when their literal ship doesn’t come in, this is where the film goes from suspenseful uncovering of the plot to outright fever dream. Winslow is haunted by his own secrets that are barely even covered at this point and Wake isn’t helping his mental state by oscillating between being viciously petty and being his enabling drinking buddy. Their days are difficult to figure out between the drunken evenings that only get more desperate when they run out of alcohol and turn to more drastic and dangerous substances.
I know I mentioned if off the top but I can’t stress how well acted this film is. The two leads take a very challenging premise and they carry the film seamlessly. You really do get drawn into the frustrations and struggles that Winslow has with Wake but you also get to almost like the old sailor sometimes despite his demeanor. Even the two men seem to be constantly struggling with how to approach each other, sometimes this side of being at each other’s throats and others seemingly becomes uncomfortably closer than they would normally want to be. There are some surprising almost tender moments between them as they can’t seem to disentangle their hatred and affection for each other, making their drunken antics together all the more confusing and messy. Even as they are unraveling because of their drunken episodes, there are moments where you can’t tell if they genuinely hate each other or if they have come to a point where it almost seems like a desperate need to cling to the other because of their shared insanity at being trapped in this situation. The results are haunting, horrifying and, at times, beautiful.
This is the plot on its surface, however. Anyone familiar with Robert Eggers is likely aware that there’s more to this than simply what meets the eye, especially with this film. From here, be aware that we’re getting close to spoiler territory, in that this reveals some rather large aspects of the plot, albeit in the form of allegory. If you are wanting to go into this blind, which honestly I would highly suggest for the first viewing, you might want to skip this paragraph and wander on down to the bottom. For the rest of you who dare to tread here, let’s get our mythology on because it does play a rather huge role in the plot of this story. For those of you tugging at your collar and trying to call to mind that one unit you might remember from back in junior high, fear not for I shall give you the cheat sheet of what is up with the allusions in this tale. The big one that you have to know about is Prometheus, the titan trickster who stole fire from the gods and brought it to the world of human beings. This is Pattinson’s character in the film, right down to the part where he hides who he actually is in order to even get on the island in the first place. His interest in the lighthouse light is on par with Wake’s obsession with it and the more he’s denied it, the more he wants to get closer to it. He finally gets his wish after a violent confrontation with Wake where he gets the upper hand and is able to see the light for himself. The sight is so terrifying and brilliant that in his ecstasy and his horror, he ends up falling down the tower steps, breaking his leg in the process. The final shot is of Winslow’s punishment, the gulls of the island eating him alive for his transgressions. The shot perfectly shows Zeus’ punishment for Prometheus and ties the whole horrific allusion together. It’s genuinely horrifying, graphic and, again, strangely beautiful. The mythology aspect of it adds such a depth that it really does have to be seen more than once to get the whole of the story but that just goes to show how rich it actually is.
I am definitely giving a huge recommendation to this film but with the understanding that this is going to be polarizing for sure. If arthouse isn’t your thing, this might be a tall order for you. There’s a lot going on here but so much of it operates on the level of symbolism or just outright allusion that, if you’re just looking for a popcorn movie, this is definitely not going to be it. It’s got its gritty moments and sometimes downright strange moments, like seeing a naked mermaid. Like with mermaid bits that are meant to entice human beings in sexual ways. Yeah, that happens. I would put spoiler on that but seriously, as much as you should go in blind, I for one would have appreciated knowing that mermaid lady bits were coming. So there you go. But that said, if you are looking for something deeper than the average blockbuster or just something to really sink your teeth into that is guaranteed to make you think and really challenge you, this is your movie. The acting is brilliant, the setting is gorgeous, the atmosphere is utterly perfect and it will leave you cold in the best way possible.
And with that, friends, thank you for joining me for another Friday Nightmare Review! If you enjoyed this and would like early access to any of my reviews, story content or anything else, you might want to consider donating to my Patreon where something as small as a dollar a month gets you everything before it goes live on the site. If that’s not in the cards for you, I do very much appreciate the time you spend reading these reviews and enjoying yet another horror movie with me. Until next time, keep the lights out there burning, remember to share your fire and may all your days and nights be pleasant ones.