In select theaters now!
THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019)
Directed by Robert Eggers
Written by Max Eggers, Robert Eggers
Starring Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, Valeriia Karaman
Find out more about the film here!
I like arthouse films. Those who read my reviews regularly know that my preferences lean towards the unusual and creative rather than the mainstream. When writer/director Robert Eggers released THE VVITCH a few years ago, I quickly put it at the top of my best of the best in horror that year. I know there’s an awful lot of buzz about THE LIGHTHOUSE and I can acknowledge a lot of good about the film. Still, I’m just going to file it under—”Not For Me,” and leave it at that.
Well, I guess I can’t just leave it at that. Allow me to support this contrarian statement with a wordy review.
In the late 1800’s, a pair of swarthy lighthouse keepers are assigned to maintain the lighthouse and live on a remote New England island. Robert Pattinson plays Ephraim Winslow, a younger lighthouseman, while Willem Dafoe plays the swarthier of the two seamen Thomas Wake. After four weeks, when their replacements fail to show up, the two keepers begin to lose their frikkin’ minds.
In two films, Robert Eggers has established himself as an extremely talented filmmaker in terms of making every inch of his film look absolutely authentic to the time it is set. In THE VVITCH it was as if Eggers transported his camera to a colonial village capturing every well-worn nook and cranny with excruciating detail. Eggers does the same here. The setting and scenery, highlighted in harsh black and white, feels cold, water-logged, grimy, and absolutely miserable. This life the two keepers live is a horrendous one filled with disgusting rot and waste. One understands why Winslow and Wake are such weather worn characters, given the abhorrent environment this film takes place in. Everything from the uniforms to the kerosene lamps to the whiskey bottles feels as if it were transplanted from over a hundred years ago. Eggers attention to detail is his finest quality and it makes the rest of the film easy to slip into, given that everything looks as it should be. He deserves extra commendation because he seems to do it with a limited budget too.
The other thing I have to note about THE LIGHTHOUSE is that it is filled with amazing visuals. From the hallucination that Dafoe’s Wake is a human lighthouse to the mermaid (yes, there’s a mermaid), to the over the top seagull gore, to the monumental climax—all of these moments are unique moments that we’ve never seen in cinema before. Eggers definitely has an eye for giving you something different to look at and THE LIGHTHOUSE is filled with these types of iconic beats that will sear into your mind and get fixed there.
Dafoe and Pattinson go full straightjacket here as the solitude, constant pounding of the waves, and blasting of the fog horn wear their sanity to its nub. Both actors deliver passionate and energetic performances that highlight both their emotional range as well as their physical prowess. These two guys ruthlessly tear into one another, escalating into an epic battle for survival with both of them stark raving batshit bonkers.
So with good performances, authentic scenery, juicy gore, and highly imaginative imagery, why do I still feel hesitant to give THE LIGHTHOUSE a wholehearted recommendation? Maybe because Eggers goes full arthouse with this one. Instead of playing it safe, he decides to double down on what made THE VVITCH so unique. But while THE VVITCH told a nuanced and subtle tale of persecution and paranoia, THE LIGHTHOUSE feels extremely frugal in the story and theme department. In paring this film down to the bare basics—two characters, black and white, single location, Eggers needs to compensate with a strong narrative and watching two guys go postal on one another for almost two hours just didn’t hack it for me. I felt a lot of the story is told to us in the long arguments between Dafoe and Pattinson and not enough of it played out in an interesting way. Walking out of the film, I felt as if I experienced something rather thematically flimsy.
There are those who are touting THE LIGHTHOUSE as the greatest thing since the first potato was mashed. I respect that. I can even see where they are coming from because there’s a whole lot of goodness in this arthouse thriller. Still, for me, despite some rock solid factors, the story of THE LIGHTHOUSE is the weakest of all of those factors. And with story being crucial in my own enjoyment in a film, that’s a hurdle I just couldn’t get over.