Following the acclaim of his debut, Robert Eggers’ second offering came highly anticipated for me on several fronts. The Witch arrived with 18 months of anticipation and categorically surpassed the initial dread of what an isolated Exploration-era set-up helped build up. The Lighthouse looked poised to exploit another page of New England’s abounding folklore—this time its maritime history—eschewing colors and numeric familiarity, this time, for an intimate portrait of monochrome mayhem. The parallels between his debut and sequel reflect those of Ari Aster’s; a nuclear family disintegrating under weight of malevolent forces transitions into lone survivors orphaned by past hardships. The similarities stop here and at the aforementioned use of colors (Midsommar is portrayed under constant sunlight) or lack thereof. Perhaps they don’t, as the two sophomoric entries defy horror conventions (Midsommar) and genre categorizations (Lighthouse), despite both remaining horror-adjacent.

And given how difficult it is to escape the hype and spoilers on online film groups, I was aware of the arrival of some twist. Its latent homoeroticism, for instance, made its way past [my usual] defenses formed by a doctrine centered on avoiding trailers at all costs, and helped by living nowhere near any cinephile community as to enjoy direct discussions. Such is the tradeoff in consuming media amidst the first wave of blinding, knee-jerk audience reactions. To my surprise, enough elements survived this spoilerific tidal wave and The Lighthouse contains enough depth and originality to ride it toward the safety of sturdy ground. On the face of it, it’s a story of cabin fever with a ton of mythology tacked on to graft an allegory onto it. But Eggers’ execution is that sturdy ground, his symbolisms are the crashing waves.

A decidedly claustrophobic affair, Eggers’ intent is evident from a suffocating 1.19:1 aspect ratio, his choice of using black and white photography, and the utter isolation of no memorable extras of note. Respectively, Jarin Blaschke’s compositions cram their subjects into a tight, antiquated frame. Their monochrome scheme adds to the confinement as, with all black and white films, it guides the eye across the frame for reference points (an exit?). And the two departing wickies were the only corporeal inclusions to complement the central pair arriving in their relief. Theirs is a haunting arrival, with the foreboding combination of raging waters, a tempest’s incessant downpour, and an ominous foghorn—persisting throughout the film with the erratic frequency of heart arrhythmia—posing as an announcement of the surreal setting.

It was supposed to be just four short weeks—long if you’d allow them but, otherwise, a straightforward gig for Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Dafoe). That quickly culminates in mounting frustrations for the young wickie as the older keeper subjects him to all the backbreaking work around the nautical installation, leaving the lightkeeping duties as his sole and exclusive domain. Ephraim is drawn to the light but that could also be his superficial understanding of the job compounding an unfounded appeal. To the uninitiated, no job is as glamorous as it appears, as it’ll nearly always entail its share of backstage duties, and all the dull work, in this instance, is assigned to Ephraim. He’s seemingly forever condemned to exclusion, and relentless gatekeeping, which makes those four weeks feel longer, what with the brimming chagrin now.

Anyone familiar with having their career prospects dashed, or condemned to indefinite stagnation, will find Ephraim’s dissatisfactions recognizable. But to entertain the urge to murder one’s superior to achieve advancement is not only a perversion of ambition (to say nothing of where that marks his edge of sanity); it is obsession as formless and undefined as water, as bottomless as the oceans. How could the ends begin to justify the means if the light is revealed to be the end itself? How can the seeker of what the light symbolizes (knowledge and wisdom) be justified in their pursuit without establishing either an understanding of its nature or an inclination towards learning and curiosity? When it comes to the light, the idea that it’s more the journey than the destination is reversed. It is a framework rendered as formless as the waters from which the beacon juts out.

For stretches, the power dynamic—stacked against the younger wickie—remains unchallenged. It will be some ways before the scales tip [violently] in his favor at a moment when the mythological subtext converges to bring the confrontation to a head. And what an eruptive momentum. Even that takes on the form of sexual tension released in the least optimal outlet. The more obvious and overhanging fears are the cautionary words on superstitious omens. The mermaid is never mentioned although Ephraim is warned of what they and seagulls represent and of the bad luck certain practices can invite. And all the mythological influences come to a clash; literal and allegorical, real and imagined, invoked and foretold, come alive in a choreography of chaotic mayhem.

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