I just posted my latest MLMillerFrights video, reviewing my least favorite horror film of 2019-2020, THE LIGHTHOUSE.
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Here’s my written review;
M.L. Miller here and welcome to my tenth anniversary Best in Horror Countdown! I have also compiled a list of horror films that worth noting to tack on to my Best of Countdown. Some of these films just barely missed the main Best of list and some are just films released through the year I thought stood out in one way or another. Do not forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. And please chime in down in the comments and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or you can counter with your own darn list! Enjoy this Best of Horror Extra!
Released on November 1, 2019. Available on digital download and On Demand from A24! Also streaming on Netflix!
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 lighthouse man, while Willem Dafoe plays the swarthier and elder 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 with THE LIGHTHOUSE. 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 sea 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 film easy to slip into, given that everything looks as it should be. He at the very least deserves recognition 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 recommendation? Maybe because Eggers goes full-tilt 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.
Eggars not only goes out of his way to show us the miserable life his two characters lead, but he also forces us to experience the mundane, repetitious, and mind-numbing boredom that whittles away at them. I have said this before in my reviews of HEREDITARY, MIDSOMMAR, and THE LODGE, we don’t need to experience monotony in order to understand it. The time wasted on simply watching the same scenes over and over have a point, but one made from pretty much the first fifteen minutes, leaving the rest of the film to repeat that tedium over and over. I got it, no need to hammer it in and wear us down for two hours. The point was made and I feel it’s overkill and a bit pompous to draw the story out to such gratuitous lengths. I mean, Dafoe and Pattinson are literally sitting around smelling each other’s farts for two and change hours.
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 art in this arthouse thriller to make you feel as if this is art. Still, for me, despite some rock-solid factors, the story of THE LIGHTHOUSE is the weakest of all of them. And with story being crucial in my own enjoyment in a film, that’s a hurdle I just couldn’t get over. When I left the theater I saw THE LIGHTHOUSE in, I looked at the faces of the crowd. They looked disappointed and a little peeved. They seemed like they didn’t really get the hype this movie had garnered and were waiting for someone to explain why this film had come so highly recommended. There were a few honest people who flat out said it sucked. And, sadly, I tend to agree. I didn’t want a commercial film from Eggars for his sophomore effort, but I think nose-diving deeper into what he accomplished before was a bad move. Here’s hoping his next one remembers the need for some story along with the pretentious arthouse shenanigans.
THE 2019-2020 EXTRA!
#1 – THE LIGHTHOUSE
#2 – MOM: MOTHERS OF MONSTERS
#3 – SCARE PACKAGE
#4 – SKYMAN
#5 – MONSTRUM
#6 – THE PLATFORM
#7 – 1BR
#8 – YUMMY
#9 – SWALLOW
#10 – ECHOES OF FEAR
#11 – GAME OF DEATH
#12 – DEADLY GAMES 1990
#13 – GIRL ON THE THIRD FLOOR
#14 – UNCLE PECKERHEAD
#15 – Z
#16 – THE LAST OF THE MANSON GIRLS
#17 – RENT-A-PAL
#18 – WARNING: DO NOT PLAY
#19 – JESUS SHOWS ME THE WAY TO THE HIGHWAY
#20 – THE BABYSITTER 2: KILLER QUEEN
#21 – UNCAGED
#22 – WOUNDS
#23 – VFW
#24 – #ALIVE
#25 – AFTER MIDNIGHT
#26 – MONSTROUS
#27 – AQUASLASH
#28 – SWEETHEART
#29 – RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE
#30 – WE SUMMON THE DARKNESS
#31 – THE SHED
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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