The Lighthouse – Film Review
by Fran Winston
Directed by: Roger Eggers
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson
In cinemas January 31st
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 Eggars 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 even 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 quite 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 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.