dani phosgene’s review published on Letterboxd:
"The light belongs to me."
When sophomore feature by the mind that stood behind one of the best horror movies of the century, The VVitch, was announced, it seemed like everything is clear about the main topic of the movie and how it's going to be played. Two men on an isolated island is already enough for a thrilling story (look at the Russian movie How I Ended This Summer) but devilish seagulls and a mysterious mermaid would only add fuel to already strong fire; but little did we or at least I know, The Lighthouse is not just a story about two men in isolation going slowly insane, it’s an incredibly hallucinatory, symbolic and horny tale of two men who seem to be in love (if you can call what they have love) but simply don’t know what to do with each other.
In the very beginning when Robert Pattinson's and Willem Dafoe's characters arrive at the enigmatic island obviously the first thing that we notice beside that the movie was shot in 1.19:1 aspect ratio in black and white which emphasizes how much Eggers was inspired by German Expressionists in movies especially Carl Theodor Dreyer and his masterpiece Vampyr, the lighthouse has a phallic shape, and if we are to believe what Rob said, in the script the building looked like an erect penis. It’s the first sexual symbol the movie has, later we see a tobacco pipe in Dafoe's mouth, cigarettes, lots of holes not to mention how much attention Eggers pays to physic of Rob's body and times we see him masturbating to a wooden mermaid while dreaming of having sex with a real mermaid played by the model Valeriia Karaman. Yes, as you can already clearly understand The Lighthouse is incredibly horny as it is intense and trippy.
Relationship between Rob and Willem shifts in every scene - in one scene they’re yelling at each other as if they are ready to kill each other, and in the other they laugh, dance and sing shanties together as if they were best friends all along. And you know what it reminds me of? Of people who have feelings for each other that they can’t understand, take Call Me By Your Name for example and the numerous times their relationship swung from them being rude to each other and right after that them regretting it and trying to make up for their behavior in the past. It also reminds me of Beau travail where unfamiliar feeling led to fatal outcome of one of the participants of the conflict. And to say that I was surprised when I got that this movie is the best LGBTQ+ movie of the year would say nothing, especially when you expect it to be just a horror movie about two men going nuts simply because of isolation but definitely not because they fell in love.
Eggers' genius is not only in his immaculate understanding of the genre of horror and how exactly to make the audience shiver but also in his commitment to the times his movies take place. If his debut The VVitch was pretty simple in this sense then his sophomore work goes much much further in recreating the time and lives of seamen. From their superstitions such as that a man shouldn’t harm seagulls or else something bad would happen, a superstition that Pattinson didn’t pay much attention to, brutally killed one of the seagulls and payed the price; to English folklore and what mermaids represent and according to Wikipedia "mermaids appear in British folklore as unlucky omens, both foretelling disaster and provoking it" which also makes sense in the reality of the movie. And even Prometheus... and I won’t tell no more about it because HUGE spoilers. And that’s only the things that I've noticed on the first watch.
Ok, it’s time to get back to the sentimental (if you can say so) part of the movie that is a human's need in other human no matter if it’s Earth or space (my little reference to Tarkovsky's Solaris). Dafoe's character is a lonely lighthouse keeper and when Rob appeared there to keep him company he was ready to do literally everything to keep it that way. Lonely Dafoe takes advantage of Rob so he won’t be left all alone again, and the way he makes sure that his plan will succeed is pretty twisted. During the entire runtime he takes advantage of Rob's mentality and makes sure that he believes that the eerie lighthouse is not only eerie looking but also haunted and as you may understand it drives Rob crazy and leads to an unbelievably gory outcome.
For Dafoe the lighthouse is a sacred place that no one can take away from him without making him his nemesis, and when Rob attempts to look what's inside the source of the light it seems like Dafoe is ready to kill him in cold blood, he acts like it’s the most important thing in his life, and later we’re starting to understand that this is THE most important thing in his life and he’s willing to do everything to defend it but... Rob will also do everything to open all the secrets of the lighthouse and get to the bottom of why Dafoe cares so much about it.
Overall, Robert Eggers managed to jump over his head with The Lighthouse and somehow suppress The VVitch that is already a masterpiece in nearly every aspect. Surprisingly enough The Lighthouse is a gay movie and definitely the weirdest I’ve seen so far; the film does and doesn’t play by the book at the same time, it feels like a classic horror movie and an experiment that maybe went way too far but that’s only makes it better, and lets you know that Robert Eggers is one of the most exciting horror directors working today, and makes me excited for his take on legendary Nosferatu even more than I was before.