Film Review: The Lighthouse

Review by Frances Winston

Directed by: Roger Eggers – Starring: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson

This movie started life as an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Light-House, but what has made it to screen bears no resemblance to the work that inspired it, other than a similar title.

Co-written by Eggers, and his brother, Max, this period-piece sees Dafoe and Pattinson play Wake and Winslow, who are (quelle surprise!) lighthouse-keepers.

Winslow (Pattinson) is sent on a four-week contract to work as a ‘wickie’ on an isolated island, under the supervision of the cantankerous Wake (Dafoe).

From the moment he arrives, strange things start happening. He witnesses Wake going up to the lantern room and stripping naked at night, and he begins to have strange dreams and visions.

Meanwhile during the stay, Wake keeps dumping the least savoury and hardest jobs on him, much to his chagrin. He also keeps seeing the same one-eyed seagull. As the men finally bond over dinner one night, Wake reveals that his previous ‘wickie’ died shortly after losing his sanity.

The day before his contract ends, a storm hits, and Winslow is forced to spend even more time on the island, with the adversarial Wake. As the storms continue to worsen and things get ever stranger, madness descends upon both men.

This is shot in black-and-white, with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio (a very old ratio used from around 1926-1932, when the movie industry was transitioning to sound, fact-fiends) which gives it a sense of being decades older than it is. If you didn’t know that the two lead actors were contemporary, and just stumbled upon it, you would believe you were watching a movie from the classic era. It is very stylised, and dark and imposing.

Having only two actors throughout (other than brief appearances by Valeriia Karamän as a mermaid) gives it an intensity, and indeed intense is the best way to describe Dafoe’s performance. To use a colloquialism, he is creepy AF. Indeed, Pattinson always appears to be playing catch up to him.

Despite this though, I found this rather turgid. I appreciate that Eggers is trying to create high art, but unfortunately he is not going for high story. The audience is supposed to take a lot at face-value, which makes this movie rather inaccessible to those moviegoers who just want to sit back and relax, and not have to overanalyse an already rather dubious plot, thinly inspired by the gothic classic.

This is an indulgent film that is expecting to have critics and movie-buffs singing its plaudits. I should point out here I am both (and have proper critical analysis qualifications) but I could not fall in love with this. Eggers is absolutely a talented filmmaker, and has a great eye and vision, but he has issues with pacing and narrative.

As art, this is fabulous. It looks great, it is moody and atmospheric, and full of its own self-importance. As a piece of entertaining cinema, it is tedious, dragged-out, and too high-brow for its own good.

The artist in me liked elements of this. The cinema-goer didn’t. And I think beyond full-on movie buffs (or the die-hard Twilight fans who pay into anything Pattinson does) this will struggle to find an audience, despite apparently being popular on Rotten Tomatoes.

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