The Lighthouse and all the images you see in this review are owned by A24
Directed by Robert Eggers
The director’s last film The Witch was a PHENOMENAL film that is easily one of the best horror films in the last decade (certainly better than Hereditary), so I was excited to see what he was going to do next. Lo and behold, his next movie starts two of the best character actors working today, is presented in Black and White, and is about something relatively mundane but will no doubt lead to horror and intrigue! Jeez, you might as well have wrapped it up, put a nice bow on it, and put it on a drone to crash into my house! Does Robert Eggers’s second film exceed the high bar he set with his first outing, or is a talent as great as his still not immune to the dread Sophomore Slump? Let’s find out!!
Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattison) is the new assistant lighthouse keeper watching over a crappy little light house on a crappy little rock not too far from shore but far enough that you wouldn’t survive an attempt to swim towards it. His supervisor Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) is an old sea captain with the accent, peg leg, and pipe to back it up, and his task is to whip this young whipper snapper into ship shape if he’s to one day maintain a lighthouse of his very own. Seems simple enough, and they certainly have more than enough work to do maintaining this house and the light therein, but over time it starts to become clear that maybe Captain Wake isn’t all he claims to be and that maybe Winslow isn’t as cut out for this work as he initially thought. Oh well, it’s not like he’s gonna be there FOREVER, right? He’s only there for a month before being moved somewhere else… oh what’s that? There’s a big storm coming that’ll make it impossible for his ship to come anytime soon? Well then! That’s… unfortunate for everyone involved. So Ephraim is stuck there for a while and with each passing day it seems that little bit of his sanity has gone with it as things get weirder and weirder around here; not the least of which being Captain Wake who REALLY seems to like the light at the top of the tower. I mean… he REALLY likes that light! So much so that Ephraim hasn’t had a chance to maintain it despite that being part of his training because Wake wants to keep it all to himself… for some reason. Can Ephraim keep his head down, focus on his work, and stay out of trouble long enough for the lighthouse company to send him another boat? What is going on up there at the top of the tower, and is that just the tip of the iceberg as far as strange happenings on this unassuming island? After seeing Pattinson brood his way through this, is there anyone else who COULD be Batman!?
Well it’s certainly another Robert Eggers film which is about as apt a summary as you’re liable to get about the darn thing. This movie is quite good and for this most part it’s also a reskin of The Witch’s central themes with a very compelling new coat of paint. It’s a little more indulgent, a little more out there in terms of ideas and motifs, and a little less disciplined particularly in regards to its pacing which are all hallmarks of the Sophomore Slump, but pretty much everything that made his debut so memorable is present and accounted for which is certainly higher praise than can be said of any number of horror films out there.
The film is a thing of beauty to behold with gorgeous black and white cinematography that compliments the dim and dismal existence that Robert Pattinson finds himself in; the lack of color or life in what he does and the bland and almost robotic way he interacts with Willem Dafoe. The atmosphere, both literally and figuratively, only accentuates the constant struggle for Pattinson to keep his mind in check as the days are long and featureless while the nights are torrential downpours that buffet the ramshackle house he has to call home. The constant rain, the constant chores that Dafoe forces him to do, the mind numbing tedium of it all as well as the bizarre harassment he gets from a one eyed gull; it all just keeps tearing away at him as the movie goes along and Pattinson is doing a phenomenal job of portraying the fraying of his sanity. A little more aggression here, a smart comment there, the increased frequency of beleaguered sighs, all the while certain that something REALLY weird is going on with Dafoe and that darn light at the top of the tower. You start to become just as agitated as Pattison is as you want to know exactly what’s going on or if there actually IS anything worth getting paranoid over. Maybe the dude just likes the light! That seems as likely a scenario as any other, and yet the tension being built up throughout the movie as well as the fracturing of reality into absurdity starts to convince you that something may really be up there and even if there isn’t, you want to know for sure. This is what drives the movie and keeps you invested in it the whole time; the promise that there’s something here to learn coupled with the anguish of it being just out of arms reach. It may not be quite as SCARY as The Witch, but that growing sense that something is about to explode at any given moment is definitely there and makes this movie pretty engaging even when things are moving along at a deliberately slow pace.
The other part of this puzzle that makes the movie works as well as it does is Dafoe who is playing this role with such relish, and is also a perfect excuse to talk about the film’s humor as well. While Pattinson is sitting there stewing in his own boredom and resentment, Dafoe is a straight up cartoon character who talks like Mr. Krabs and acts like a fussy middle manager. He’s always spouting off dubious wisdom and pushing Pattinson’s buttons seemingly in service of toughening him up to be a TRUE lighthouse keeper, but really he’s just an obnoxious old bastard who has nothing better to do with his time but smoke his pipe, stare at the light in the tower, and pretend there’s some sort of nobility in his meager existence. Oh, and he also farts a lot. The last thing you’d expect in a movie like this would be a bunch of fart jokes, but there they are! That’s probably the BROADEST the comedy gets in the movie, but this does have a particularly dark sense of humor throughout with Pattinson’s continued plight playing out like the sick machinations of an easily amused god, and some of it does translate to humor for the audience. Then again, a lot of the humor also comes from the sympathy you have for this guy who has to deal with such an obnoxious dude who won’t shut up and won’t stop offering him alcohol, and some of the best moments of the movie come from the scenes of them drinking, cavorting, laughing, and yelling at each other simply because they don’t have anything better to do with their time. These scenes are mostly in the second half of the movie and do a great job of punctuating stretches of the movie that would have otherwise grown overly tedious had they not had SOMETHING to spike the interest instead of just slowly building the tension as it had done up to that point.
There are some issues with the movie though and most of them stem from the fact that this does feel a lot more indulgent than The Witch. The pacing is off as we just keep getting scene after scene after scene of Robert Pattinson being frustrated, Willem Dafoe acting weird, or something around them going all twisted and warped to reflect their declining mental state, and it just doesn’t feel like one connects to the other all that well. While The Witch was a slow burn towards a very clear goal with each scene building off of each other, this one feels like it’s dancing around a few central mysteries and deadlines that we keep at arms-length no matter how many times we circle around them. I mean the first time Robert Pattinson sees something… ODD going on in that lighthouse, you’d think that would be the impetus for the plot to lurch forward and the pace to hasten, but it’s really only at about the halfway point of the movie and things just keep going on more or less as it had been up to that point. The movie is almost two hours and I think they could have cut about ten or fifteen minutes off of it as well as shuffle the scenes around so it doesn’t feel like we’re starting and stopping constantly. Also, the final shot of the movie, which I won’t spoil here, is… not without merit but kinda made the whole thing feel sillier than it needed to. I get WHY it’s there as it was definitely established and is certainly “fitting” for the events that had transpired, but I guess it felt a bit too literal in a movie that was intentionally being rather vague up to that point. Not a big deal, but it felt like a slightly off key note to end the movie on, at least for me.
Is it as good as The Witch? Perhaps not, though both movies have enough differences between them that I’m sure some will enjoy this one more, and maybe another viewing or two will get me to appreciate it a little bit more which will put them even closer in contention, but the pacing does drag it down a bit which gives The Witch the edge overall. I still highly recommend this movie though if you enjoy a slow burn pot boiler about someone losing their grip on reality as this one DEFINITELY has that formula down and pulls it off with a unique sense of style that sets it apart from basically anything else you’ll see all year. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna spend the next few days BEGGING Nickelodeon to make a parody of this starring Mr. Krabbs and Squidward! Admit it! Now that it’s in your head, you want to see it too!!