Eggers and his brother, Max Eggers, wrote the darkly comic script, which puts Thomas and Ephraim on parallel paths to madness. Thomas, with his worship of the lighthouse’s beam, is on his way there from the start. Emasculated by Thomas’ relentless orders, Ephraim develops a manic desire to claim the light for his own. The men bond and come to blows, amid erotic undertones.
Dafoe, in the midst of a career renaissance thanks to his empathetic turns in “The Florida Project” and “At Eternity’s Gate,” growls his way through a gloriously unhinged performance. But Pattinson gets to truly unravel, as his character’s restrained nature slowly gives way to all-out hysteria. It’s within Ephraim’s (seemingly) crumbling mind that Eggers introduces the film’s most disconcerting images: of sirens, sea monsters and other horrors.
The legend of Prometheus casts a shadow as “The Lighthouse” builds toward its unfortunately esoteric conclusion. The film also evokes “The Shining,” with its cabin fever and the ominous appearance of an ax. Following in the tradition of Stanley Kubrick’s classic, Eggers expertly manages the psychological terror, blurring the line between reality and mania.
Earlier this year, horror auteurs Jordan Peele and Ari Aster both followed up celebrated debuts (“Get Out,” “Hereditary”) with fulfilling second films (“Us,” “Midsommar”). With “The Lighthouse,” Eggers has followed suit. In a cinematic age defined by the sequel, remake and reboot, this filmmaker’s idiosyncratic vision represents a beacon of light shining through the mist.
Starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. Directed by Robert Eggers.
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, violence, disturbing images and some crude language. Check listings for theaters. 1 hour, 50 minutes.
Bottom line: A second film worth celebrating