Nihar’s review published on Letterboxd:
From the opening moments of Robert Eggers' sophomore effort, The Lighthouse, you get an otherworldly, almost fable-esque feeling. You are entering a space occupied by only 2 people, distanced from humanity, isolated from any sort of communication, forced to rely on themselves to work in a lighthouse. The film starts off as a introspection on paranoia and loneliness, but soon becomes something far more sinister and unsettling, employing the unreliable narrator to wholly effective results.
Far moreso than any contemporary director from his generation, Eggers desires verisimilitude, engulfing the audience in his world, his study, his language of 19th century New England. The visual poetry, black-and-white cinematography (finally a film that makes sense to have it), and the 1.19:1 aspect ratio, his style reminisces on the classic Lovecraftian horror tales, ones shrouded in mystery and expressionism. There is an added sense of timelessness here, through Eggers' style, allowing it to feel modern and relevant. The environment in The Lighthouse almost becomes a third character as the sound of the waves crashing into the lighthouse add to their paranoia, as do the constant cawing of the seagulls. The score is constant, eerie, unnerving, and filled with dread, and never threatens to let up.
Eggers needed his lighthouse keepers to deliver to hold the audience together, and he couldn't have asked for better performances from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. Thomas Wake (Dafoe) guards the light, tending to it at night and doesn't allow his subordinate, Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) anywhere near it. Ephraim is quiet, reserved, and curious, offering very little insight into him. Though there is hesitation between them, with enough liquor in them, they shout, they dance, they talk about their past, and fight. It is only when they are at their wit's end that Winslow loses his grasp on reality. Dafoe has been incredible the past few years, with an Oscar worthy performance in The Florida Project, and now with The Lighthouse he may have topped it. This was an incredibly challenging performance, one requiring him to deliver multiple soliloquies, and portraying two different versions of him. Pattinson, many films his junior, matches him at every beat, who begins a slow descent into sheer madness. The movie is shown through the perspective of Winslow, but as he loses his sanity, we become unsure what we are seeing is real.
The Lighthouse works because of the strength of the performances. Pattinson and Dafoe are top notch here, and entirely deserve acting nods at any future awards ceremony. Not everything that Eggers wants to achieve thematically coalesces into something logical and meaningful, but there is an incredible amount of artistry on display here, and the film takes its time to setup the characters. Here is a director willing to tell original stories, one with an entirely unique voice, and even if it doesn't land flawlessly, I'm up for anything he does in the future.