I’m hard to please when it comes to horror. Rather than being surprised by jump scares, I prefer a movie that focuses on building up edge-of-your seat anticipation and intensity. After watching the bizarre and fascinating trailer for The Lighthouse, I figured this movie would fall into this category of horror, especially considering director Robert Eggers’ excellent track record with The Witch. But expectations and conjectures be ye damned: The Lighthouse keel hauls its audience with a surprising tale of outlandishly captivating proportions, building a tensely mesmerizing story that is both serious and darkly comedic. This is in my mind one of the best movies of the year, and a serious contender to be my favorite horror film.
The Lighthouse is a simple story: two men (Robert Pattinson as the vagrant Winslow and Willem Dafoe as the salty sea-dog Wake) are sent to man a lighthouse on a remote island off the coast of Maine in the late 19th century. Those be the only beans I’m willin’ to spill about this movie. In the trailer, you’d notice copious amounts of drinking and descents into insanity. Interpret that as you will, I guarantee The Lighthouse will still surprise you with how it develops the plot and these characters. There is a central theme to this movie that is easier to see in hindsight, but the film draws inspiration and metaphor from numerous works across history, some more obvious than others. Its both fun and important to notice details drawn anywhere from Greek and Norse mythology, to the Bible, to Edgar Allen Poe, to sea-stories like The Old Man and the Sea and Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. Its a testament to Robert Eggers’ dedication to research and execution of a story that is more than just a sequence of strange events.
The acting performances are the highlight of this movie. Despite much of the script being improvised and the story being driven by action more than dialogue, The Lighthouse is a benchmark in acting that should be studied by the film industry. Pattinson and Dafoe both give career-defining performances, and play off each other’s actions with intensity rarely seen or mastered to such powerful effects. They’re able to transition from lighthearted salty insults to aggressive gnashing of teeth with incredibly stirring effect. I’d consider both their performances to be highly Oscar worthy, with Pattinson’s being particularly surprising, and Dafoe’s Shakespearean delivery likely the best of his career.
This film is first and foremost a case study in visual storytelling. Obvious off the bat is the squared-off 1.19:1 framing ratio and grainy black-and-white cinematography, which beautifully gives the impression that The Lighthouse could’ve been shot in the 1930s. The lighting is absolute perfection, as heavy shadow and light contrast is used to master effect in moving the plot along and solidifying the tone of every shot, most of which was accomplished by ambient light and flames. Some of the most memorable shots I’ve ever seen come from this movie, particularly when used during Willem Dafoe’s electrifying monologues, or when cataloging Pattinson’s pent-up fury. The texture of each frame exudes cold and dampness that bleeds past the screen to effect the audience. To benefit the visuals is a sound design that may be the best I’ve heard in any film. The sound engineering is so damn brilliant that I will be livid if it does not take an Oscar. The score seamlessly blends in with the rest of the audio to set the nefarious tone that pervades the entirety of The Lighthouse’s tense narrative.
This film’s only distinct flaws are the script and pacing. While Dafoe’s monologues and Pattinson’s personal character journey are brilliant, they are sometimes strewn together by stark improvisation. While their improv is perfection, this dialogue is sometimes placed too distinctly between complex monologues, something I’d attribute more to direction than acting skill. There are also one too many moments of Pattinson and Dafoe dancing around in drunken stupor, which throws the pacing off a bit. But the merits of The Lighthouse outweigh its cons: I’ve never seen a movie that blurs the line between who is insane and who isn’t so consciously and cleverly. It should be nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Score, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Design, and Best Production Design. No this film is not for everyone and is certainly jarring, but for those who are looking for a shocking twist of a film, The Lighthouse is difficult to disappoint. 8.9/10Follow @ReelMasterShots