Review: Insanity just over the horizon in 'The Lighthouse'

Robert Pattinson and a never-better Willem Dafoe light up the latest from "The Witch" director Robert Eggers

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

In "The Lighthouse," two men descend into the bowels of madness. Viewers will know how they feel. 

Director Robert Eggers' follow-up to 2015's "The Witch" is a starkly gorgeous black-and-white head trip that is like staring into a blinding light: you're hypnotized, you can't look away and your eyes won't be the same after.   

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in "The Lighthouse."

Neither will your head. Eggers is a master of mood, and he uses light, visuals and sound — the howling foghorn burrows into your brain — to create a sensation of gripping intensity and slow-burn insanity. It's enough to drive you absolutely nuts. 

Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) are a pair of lighthouse keepers in the late 1800s. Ephraim arrives at the lighthouse where Thomas is standing watch and is assigned to a four week stint doing grunt work under Thomas' attentive glare. It will be the longest four weeks of his life. 

The men are isolated from the world and alone with each other in impossibly close quarters. There's no privacy or personal space, and there's no escaping each other's flatulence. They're stuck in an arranged marriage of sorts, and the getting-to-know-you period unlocks some dark secrets from both of their pasts. 

Pattinson is superb but it's Dafoe who emerges as a giant with a towering, unforgettable performance. From the depths of his soul he unleashes several bellowing, blustery, unblinking monologues where he verbally obliterates Pattinson's character using a kind of pirate poetry that is like Blackbeard gone mental; the script by Robert and Max Eggers has lyricism to it, but Dafoe turns it into a symphony. He's long been a terrific actor, but in "The Lighthouse" he's a screen titan. He's never burned brighter.


'The Lighthouse'


Rated R: for sexual content, nudity, violence, disturbing images, and some language

Running time: 110 minutes