Film review: The Lighthouse is an Oscar-calibre plummet into gothic terror

The Lighthouse takes you to places you’re not ready to go but keeps you enthralled enough to make you keep watching

Seeing The Lighthouse in theatres was an experience so moving, so incredibly guttural, that I could hardly contain my emotions for the duration.

I audibly gasped and sat transfixed at moments, even if some scenes were so grotesque, so gruesome, or so terrifying that I’d be better turning away. But that’s the power of this film: The Lighthouse takes you to places you’re not ready to go but keeps you enthralled enough to make you keep watching.

At times my stomach was both churning with uneasy anticipation and my heart was beating out of my chest. My head was telling me I’d had enough — that The Witch director Robert Eggers had taken it too far — and yet, I could never leave my seat.

For each and every frame and singular moment, Eggers and co-leads Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson commanded every ounce of my attention. This story of two lighthouse keepers whose isolation leads to a slow descent into madness is riveting at every turn.

Like Eggers’ debut The Witch, this film is so unexpected and wild that you’ll be left gasping for air. There’s fervent, frenetic energy that I couldn’t push aside.

To anyone who thought Robert Pattinson was a one-franchise wonder with Twilight, his performance here proves you wrong now and forever. He’s built up indie cred with Good Time, The Rover and this year’s High Life, but his performance here is so intense it may just be the crowning achievement of his young career.

He’s under 35, and his plunge into insanity has the same intensity as Brando as Colonel Kurtz or Carlyle as Begbie. Meanwhile, Willem Dafoe transcends the profession and gives the most lived-in performance I’ve seen in years.

As he rattles off passages and verse like a drunken, intimidating beat poet and surrounds himself in smoke from his billowing pipe, he’s so good that Dafoe the actor disappears and lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake rips to the forefront in his place.

No one has gone this batshit crazy since Nicholson in The Shining, and if he doesn’t win an Oscar, the Academy institution must be brought down, brick by irrelevant brick.

The Lighthouse is not just a film. It’s not performance art, and their lighthouse, built by incredible Nova Scotians, is not just the stage for this one-two hell of a punch of a movie.

This black-and-white, gothic thespian showdown is one for the books, and I doubt I’ll ever see anything quite like it again in my lifetime.

Jordan Parker is a PR professional and journalist in Halifax, and these reviews appear first on his film blog Parker & the Picture Shows.