MOVIE REVIEW — The Lighthouse
Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe’s Honeymoon to 19th Century New England — ★★★★1/2
I first saw The Lighthouse this past Halloween night and planned on putting a review out that same evening. However, that was before I actually experienced the film. Fast forward a week and I have just seen Robert Eggers’ newest affair with the horror genre for a second time and I believe I can properly discuss the film now and my genuine thoughts, though I will admit, this is an absolutely fucking bizarre movie that I do not know if I will ever truly understand. Truthfully, this review was meant to drop two weeks ago, but I got a bit overwhelmed (Or a bit lazy). so with tat being said, let’s talk about The Lighthouse…
Set in the late 1800s, retired timber-man Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) is sent on a boat to serve a contract job as a wickie for four weeks on an isolated island with a gassy elderly man named Thomas Wake (William Dafoe). On the first day of the job, Winslow notices that there is a hole in his cot. As he digs into it, he finds a small wooden figurine of a mermaid and stuffs it in his jacket. Wake is perceived by Winslow as a strange and superstitious fellow, going up to the top of the lighthouse at night and stripping nude as he basks in the ominous glory of the light. Winslow ultimately decides to shrug it off, but is drawn towards the ocean. As he approaches the water, floating tree stumps in appear, along with a horrifying image of a mermaid in the deep. As time passes, the two men lose themselves as time seems to fall away from them on the island, with nothing but utter madness ensuing.
To say there is a lot to unpack with this film is putting it lightly, not just because Pattinson and Dafoe are speaking in thick accents and old-timey speech, but because there is so much going on here. Pattinson and Dafore both give award-worthy performances as Ephraim and Thomas respectively, with Dafore specifically deserving to be showered in all the gold for the work he does as the veteran wickie. Seriously though, Pattinson continues to deliver these great performances film after film (see: High Life and Good Time as recent examples) and Dafoe has been vastly underappreciated by the mainstream for years outside of his stellar turn as The Green Goblin in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. The Lighthouse is no different, with both men turning in some of the best, most unique work of their respective careers. The religious subtext surrounding the film’s plot is (a little) easier to pick up on with repeat viewing, as this seems be a story about a man trapped in hell or purgatory, atoning for his sins, though that could all be completely wrong and it could just be about two men going crazy on a remote island during a storm.
Eggers’ direction leaves little else to be desired as he shows his prowess as one of the fastest rising directors in cinema today. There are some great long takes here, but also some truly amazing shots that could serve as paintings in an art museum thanks to Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke (The VVitch). There is one image that has yet to leave my brain from the first time I saw this film, with it being (VERY MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD) Ephraim lying on the rocks as he stares upward at a naked Thomas, whose eyes are radiating the light from the actual lighthouse. Trust me, my description cannot do it justice and if you have seen the film, then you absolutely know what this is about.
From the first trailer released for The Lighthouse, I had my hopes that the music featured within said trailer would make it into the actual film. I was not disappointed. This is just a little aside, but it also serves as a way to mention the score which is delectably devilish throughout the entire length of the film, with the sea shanty Doodle Let Me Go (Yaller Girls) being the only other piece of music used in the film, in the men’s crazed, drunken singing and also over the end credits. Mark Korven is the composer for the score, and while it is not something that I would just want to listen to while driving or trying to sleep, it is very atmospheric in the most eerie way imaginable.
If there is one knock for the film at hand, it is its white-knuckle commitment to the bizarre, otherworldly nature of its subject matter. While this may seem like hatred towards the movie for no reason, its simply just a matter of personal taste. Some are going to leave their viewing of The Lighthouse head over heels at how downright strange it gets, while others will leave annoyed at the insistence in leaving the audience bewildered at literally everything that had just transpired on the screen. The longer I think about it, the less I hold this against the film. There is nothing wrong with leaving bits of information or specific scenes ambiguous to allow audiences to draw their own conclusions and spark discussions online, but to some extent, this whole film feels like it can be debated in 10,000 different ways.
Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse is s a film that packs a swift punch like an overcoming tidal wave, but alas, it loses some of that severity in the ambiguous nature of its entire plot. The performances from Pattinson and Dafoe are worth the price of admission alone, and provide for some truly mesmerizing scenes between the two of them, dealing out hilarity and terror beat after beat. Being one of the most inventive films of the year also helps The Lighthouse stand out from the crowd, with my personal assumption being that this will go on to achieve a cult-classic status in years to come. This is easily the craziest movie of the year, and I can confirm that you are depriving yourself of greatness by not seeing it in theaters.
The Lighthouse is currently playing nationwide here in the U.S. (and possibly worldwide depending on your location), so be sure to go check it out in theaters!
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If you are interested, I got to see Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep a few days early and have a full review out here: