****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****
My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
My Recommendation: SKIP IT. Not worth seeing in the theatre…you can wait til it hits Netflix or cable to check it out.
The Lighthouse, written and directed by Robert Eggers, is the story of two lighthouse keepers, Thomas Wake and Ephraim Howard, who struggle with the isolation and solitude of their job. The film stars Willem Dafoe as Thomas Wake and Robert Pattinson as Ephraim.
Director Robert Eggers burst upon the scene in 2015 with his ingenious horror film, The Witch, which was set on a remote farm in 1630’s New England. The Witch was a piece of devilishly terrific film making that used craft and artistry to breath life into an ancient tale. The Witch was not perfect, but it was well-crafted and highlighted the great potential of Eggers as auteur.
The Lighthouse has been much anticipated, by me and other cinephiles, because of the great promise shown in The Witch and because of the intriguing casting of Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, two committed actors. I was very excited to see The Lighthouse, so much so that I went on opening day to see it as soon as I could.
Sadly, my excitement for The Lighthouse diminished with every passing flash of its monotonous warning beam of light. The Lighthouse tries to be so many things and yet ends up being nothing at all. The film is a very ambitious project, but the bottom line is that it simply fails as a cinematic endeavor.
The biggest issue with The Lighthouse is that it is neither entertaining nor artistically enlightening. The film certainly boasts all the atmospherics that would enable it to be a quality film…great setting, terrific acting and solid black and white cinematography…but the narrative is so thin, rushed and indulgently incoherent that when it is all over the film simply wisps away like dust blown off an old photograph, never to be thought of again.
I’ve heard The Lighthouse described as a horror comedy, which strikes me as painfully inaccurate and woefully inadequate. People describing the film as a comedy are only doing so because they are so befuddled by it they think it must be a joke. The Lighthouse is not a comedy as there is nothing funny about it, and if it is meant to be a comedy it is even worse than I think it is.
I would describe the film as a mythological horror thriller, which in theory should be right up my alley, but even with that awkwardly specific yet expansive moniker the film fails to deliver the goods. It certainly touches upon some things, particularly the mythology aspect, that could be very interesting, but it doesn’t do so in any sort of interesting way and ultimately falls decidedly flat.
Eggers’ direction on The Witch was stellar, but with The Lighthouse he flounders trying to set narrative focus. The film meanders and never gains any dramatic or horror momentum and then hits an unearned hyper-drive that leaves coherence lost out at sea. The unwieldy ambition of the film ends up sinking the movie and leaving it a rotting hull on the ocean floor, which you’d think would be an indication of a fascinating story to tell, but here we are stuck with a pretty mundane sea shanty that gets sunk by its own inadequate telling.
Dafoe and Pattinson actually do some pretty solid work on The Lighthouse, but the narrative is so diluted their efforts are all for naught. Pattinson, in particular, has really grown into a quality actor, as evidenced by his work in this year’s High Life, and he gives his all as the junior lighthouse keeper. It will be interesting to see what he is able to do with the much trod ground of Batman when Matt Reeves takes the helm for the next installment of that cash cow franchise.
Dafoe is always a committed actor, and he does his most Dafoe-eqsue work in The Lighthouse as the ornery, pseudo-Ahab, Thomas Wake. In last year’s At Eternity’s Gate, Dafoe literally gobbled up dirt as Vincent van Gogh, and in the Lighthouse he once again indulges in the same mineral rich diet, devouring soil like he does the scenery.
Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke shoots a nice black and white in a claustrophobic aspect ratio, and the film does look gorgeous, but his framing fails to accentuate the narrative or psychological sub-text, and the visuals end up feeling muddled and muted. In this way Blaschke’s beautiful black and white is equally as empty as the story and film it is wrapped around.
In conclusion, I really wanted to love The Lighthouse…but I didn’t. For all it has going for it the film simply doesn’t work. If you are really interested in seeing it, my recommendation is to save your money and wait for it to hit a streaming service or cable. If you really want to have a hauntingly good movie-watching Halloween, skip The Lighthouse altogether and watch the super-creepy and effective, The Witch.