The Lighthouse Movie Review
Written by Ryan Holloway
Released by Universal Pictures
Directed by Robert Eggers
Written by Robert Eggers and Max Eggers
2020 109 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Released 25th May 2020 on Digital and on Blu-ray and DVD 8th June 2020
Robert Pattinson as Thomas Howard
Willem Dafoe as Thomas Wake
Valeriia Karaman as Mermaid
If you’re looking for escapism from the lockdown then The Lighthouse is probably not the film for you, but there’s a chance it might just make you feel a little better about how you have been handling it all. Get ready to jump into the deep end of a very choppy sea with two of the greatest actors of different eras going head to head.
First off, The Lighthouse has all the right ingredients; two actors on the very top of their game, an in-form director and a story always likely to get BAFTA and Academy Award members' mouths watering enough to cause a tidal wave of pomposity.
On the surface of it, Egger’s follow up to the critically acclaimed The Witch, is exactly what cinema was made for and has so much to admire, but does it knit together? Does it entertain? And is it indeed; ‘Explosively Scary’, ‘Ferociously Entertaining’ or ‘Devilishly Hypnotic’?
The premise is simple enough. Dafoe and Pattinson play a couple of lighthouse keepers who try to maintain their sanity while living on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s. When a dangerous storm means that they won’t get off the island and instead get trapped, a battle of wills ensues.
We are first introduced to the two characters as they replace the previous pair who have been working at the lighthouse. It’s windy, it’s cold and Egger is able to perfectly convey the ominous feelings of the beginning of a journey with such simplicity that it’s no wonder that the director, as he says himself, owes so much to the silent film era.
We are also introduced very early on to the horrendous sound of a foghorn that bellows out as if from some kind of metaphorical monster from the deep. This sound is but a small part of the brutal, maddening sound design that, through some truly talented Foley artists, is as visceral as it is ear-piercingly distracting. All of this, mixed together with a brass heavy score from Mark Korven, makes for some hard work but this is somehow fitting once we see the two men go about their daily routines.
The film is set out as a battle between youth and experience. Dafoe is exceptional as the old-sea dog who has worked the lighthouse for most of his life and has given his very soul to the light that seeks to save so many. He looks upon Patterson’s character with all the cruelty of someone who is both trying to prepare his subordinate for the hard work to come, while also taking some sadistic glee in breaking him slowly (very slowly) as their time on the island ticks on.
Patterson himself is on fine form here too. Since the days of his sparkly vampire work in Twilight, he has become something of an arthouse gem, who has slowly but surely distanced himself from the tween admiration that once clouded his future endeavors, and become one of Britain’s finest acting exports.
As the two reveal a little more about themselves their relationship becomes stronger through familiarity, but also much more volatile with aggressive and sometimes physical exchanges that threaten to destroy, not only their living environment, but the reason for them being there in the first place.
It’s all part of the cat and mouse narrative that is at play here, and as a storm hits just as they are to be replaced by another pair of seafaring souls, things become a little less straightforward.
The film's more shocking moments are also its most surreal as we are left to wonder whether what our two protagonists are seeing is really there or part of their mental deterioration as a result of their prolonged stay on the island.
There are mermaids and tentacles, that certainly work in creating an unsettling experience - with none more unsettling than watching Robert Pattinson masturbate over a tiny, poorly whittled sculpture of a woman - but it starts to drown under the anticipation of a satisfying climax.
Away from the ambiguity of the story, which is bound to be divisive, particularly among average cinema-goers, The Lighthouse is such a bountiful cinema experience that, despite the use of square aspect ratio used in the early sound years of cinema by Fritz Lang, every frame is used to its full to properly show off the wonderful production design and to capture so much of the characters' physical performances that is a real sight to behold.
Equal care is given with dialogue which comes from Eggers and his brother Max’s passion for the works of Melville and Stevenson. They also consulted nautical dictionaries for concise jargon. The hard work is all there on the screen.
The Lighthouse is a real force of nature and feels like it’s been sewn together like some kind of cinematic Frankenstein’s monster, taking the best parts of what made cinema the true wonder that it is and unleashing it into a world perhaps not quite ready.
It would be quite something to see the film re-written for the stage as its quite possible that this is where it belongs. Maybe we will see it one day yet.
The Lighthouse certainly isn’t for everyone, it is so beautifully produced and is a masterclass in cinematic filmmaking. On top of this you have two performances that should be studied for the rest of time by aspiring actors. Sadly, with any film that deals with a descent into madness, despite some incredibly strong visuals that are both horrific and fantastical, those moments become almost inconsequential and fall into the ‘it was all a dream’ style of laziness.
The Lighthouse is a glorious piece of cinema but frustratingly, and perhaps unnecessarily ambiguous, and as the lockdown in the UK and other areas of the world starts to ease, it might trigger some very real PTSD so watch with caution.
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