Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe plumb their depth as actors
For his followup to his 2016 debut, “The Witch,” director Robert Eggers could have really thrown audiences a curveball and made, I don’t know, a peppy romantic comedy?
Of course, he did not. “The Lighthouse” is right in the wheelhouse of “The Witch.” It’s another period-authentic psychological thriller that will likely divide audiences.
It’s a masterclass of claustrophobic tension and a showcase for two outstanding actors to push their limits. And when one of those actors is Willem Dafoe, you know those limits are pretty far out.
Set in the 1890s in a remote outpost on the New England coast, “The Lighthouse” is a tale of an old man (Dafoe), a young man (Robert Pattinson) and the sea. Dafoe’s grizzled lighthouse keeper (colloquially called a “wickie”) is joined by Pattinson’s younger worker eager to learn a new trade.
In this isolated setting and close quarters, the two men have to coexist. It’s a tale of new roommates that makes the worst season of “The Real World” seem quaint in comparison. In an uneven dichotomy akin to a master and slave, Pattinson’s character slowly unravels in the tedious labor, loneliness and, well, a farting bunkmate.
Shot starkly in black and white and utilizing the square-ish aspect ratio most common in the silent film era, “The Lighthouse” often feels like it was unearthed from another era. As with “The Witch,” Eggers strives for authenticity in the period, although since we’re at the turn of the 20th century, the dialogue is more accessible than his first film.
But “The Lighthouse” shines when these two actors are fearlessly diving into these characters. You likely expect this from Dafoe. His character has been there, done that, and he’s both pragmatic and a nightmare boss. He’s a sympathetic character at times, but he’s also the pressure cooker that helps drive Pattinson’s character near madness.
Anyone complaining about Pattinson’s casting in the lead of upcoming film “The Batman” hasn’t been following his career post-”Twilight.” This is the fourth Pattinson film released by indie studio A24 Films, and this performance is even more bold than his turn in “Good Time” and “High Life” (both of which you should see).
Pattinson and Dafoe lean into this and push each other to the point they could both conceivably see Oscar nods. Imagine the below-decks scene from “Jaws” taken to feature length, often terrifying, occasionally quite charming.
The descent into WTF weirdness (and there is plenty of that) is a slow grind. Imagine “The Shining” only seaside and a bit of a buddy comedy.
Like “The Witch,” not all audiences are going to be buying what Eggers is selling, but “The Lighthouse” isn’t lacking in audacity or originality. And I, for one, can’t wait to see what the director will do for his next trick.