While I’m not the cinema lover that eagerly expects any movie to come from A24, there has to be a point where you can’t expect every single one of them to be classics in their own right. That really comes true whenever it’s in the category of horror because it’s not always that scary and everyone except yourself will become obsessed with it. The possibility of The Lighthouse would more likely be the same, but it’s easy to see why so many are integrated by this psychological period movie, along with being probably the one horror flick from the studio that’s memorable.
What’s the Story: In the late 19th century, two lighthouse keepers, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), must maintain their sanity while living alone on a remote and mysterious New England island for four weeks.
Since I know myself pretty well, I was expecting to be in the minority with The Lighthouse since everybody has been hailing it as one of the best movies of 2019 since last fall. Film Critic Chris Stuckmann loved it so much that it was his favorite movie of last year. I can’t say I’m shocked. This was going to be a film I was willing to check out in theaters, but it wasn’t playing near me, unfortunately. That could’ve been the case about 30 minutes in, but as it continued, my mind let in and enjoyed it. Does this mean it’s good enough to be called a masterpiece? No, but it was better than I thought.
When you read what this is all about, there’s no way of thinking it could be interesting when it’s just Pattinson and Dafoe. That isn’t the case with this film. With only these two respected actors as the prime focus, they delivered some of the best performances I’ve seen from both of them. Pattison has been someone I’ve been rooting for in the past few years, especially now since he’s going to be Batman, and it’s great to see him pull out one terrific performance to the next as his role of Winslow had shades of Leonardo DiCaprio. This has got to be his second-best performance of his career behind Good Time, and these are the kinds of roles where it’s enough to call him a capable actor now. With talking about Dafoe, I didn’t see Dafoe; all these eyes have seen for two hours was the creepy lighthouse keeper named Wake. He completely disappeared in this role, and the praise he got was warranted. But which of the two was better? My vote has to go to Pattinson since he had a tremendous scene around the 88-minute mark that almost blew me away.
Much of the props should be given to the co-writer and director Robert Eggers. He rose to prominence quickly as this is his sophomore effort with the studio after helming his 2016 directorial debut The Witch. While a lot of film fans loved this, this is one of those times where I couldn’t buy into the hype surrounding it. From what I saw, it was boring to sit through and thought it was the opposite of “underrated,” if I had to be straight-forward. But with The Lighthouse, this is a better film this time around. His abilities to take us back in a creepy period when nothing seems perfect with the sound of a foghorn, hallucinations, seagulls, which is bad luck to kill one, storms, and anything that could delve into insanity.
The first time watching the trailer and realized the film is all in black-and-white and presented itself in a 35MM/ 1.19:1 aspect ratio could’ve made this feel too artistic for what it was trying for, but it definitely helps its visual aesthetic to make it look like we’re watching a movie that came out in the 1920s but with better picture quality. Combined with Jarin Blaschke’s beautiful cinematography, which earned an Oscar nomination, the gothic and claustrophobic look to the story worked throughout. This wouldn’t have played out well if they stuck with shooting this in color.
Just know that isn’t your typical horror movie on display as it’s one of those that might mess with your mind in putting together what it all means by the end. Its humor might not have gotten to me due to having a sort of bleak sense of humor when the story calls for, but what comes as a shocker was when there were a few fart jokes. Never thought they would find those in an art-house film. Where it comes down to everything else production-wise, there’s nothing negative to say about it. The production design from Craig Lathrop is on-point, having the setting of the lighthouse a character of its own, the score by Mark Korven isn’t used a lot yet it’s haunting, and the cinematography, as I mentioned, is pristine in its imagery, one of the finest-looking films of last year.
This is one of those films where it might have a lot of say about it. That’s very clear once it came to the ending, which was interesting and confusing at the same time. Written by Eggers and his brother Max, who knows what they were on while creating this screenplay. Researching what it meant might’ve not been the exact response I was hoping to learn, but there are many themes to interpret. In some ways, maybe that’s what Eggers wanted us to do after it reaches its end.
We’re seeing these two characters slow descent into madness on this island and act stir crazy around each other. Seeing this from their perspective wasn’t what I was going for when watching, but there comes a point where reality doesn’t mean a thing halfway through. The kinds of range of emotions the both of them had were totally believable when there’s no one else to talk to, and you start to lose your mind at any given moment. Just try to imagine yourself in the same situation now or in the late 1800s with no devices of any kind, and you have no clue what to do next for weeks or even months.
But where do the problems lay with the film? For me, there were a few pacing issues here and there where I wasn’t getting into the story from those few occasions. Some won’t have that issue, but that could change watching this again is a possibility. Besides that, I challenged myself to not use subtitles, and without them, it was sometimes hard trying to figure out what Winslow and Thomas were saying with their sailor dialogue.
In the end, The Lighthouse turned out to be a satisfying psychological horror flick, and it’s a good feeling to talk about this in a positive light. Like I said before, this is by no means a masterpiece like what everyone has been saying, but Eggers made a better film than The Witch in terms of direction, cinematography, and seller performances from Pattinson and Dafoe, respectively. I don’t know about you, but I would love to see Eggers take on another genre that’s not in the realm of horror in the near future. Perhaps a musical to change things up? Is this for everyone? Definitely not, but it’s worth the watch for fans of cinema out there.
Overall Grade: B