TL;DR – One of the weirdest films I have ever watched and I don’t know if that is a good or bad thing, maybe both?
Score – I honestly don’t know out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Quite often a film will come across your desk that has elements of oddness to it, sometimes that oddness is a sprinkling of seasoning over the finished production, sometimes that oddness is a core component of the meal. However, I have never seen a film that had its oddness so baked into the film that it permeated every aspect of the filmmaking from start to finish. Well, that changes today with The Lighthouse.
So to set the scene, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) has arrived by small boat onto a desolate island in the middle of the Atlantic. He is to be an assistant wickie or lighthouse keeper under Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). They have to work four hard long weeks isolated on the small island, but then they get to go home with decent pay. The work is hard and the close quarters start to come to bare on the two men, made worse when the winds turn and the waves crash and the island becomes isolated from everything and everyone. Now because of the nature of this film it hard to really discus it on any level without spoiling the film a little bit, so be cautious of that as you read on.
The first thing you notice in this film is the visuals and how different they are from most things you see in the cinemas. There is a conformity that has come into some aspects of filmmaking that you just kind of take for granted like how music is usually 4/4 time and at 440 Hz. You kind of expect a film that is in colour and in that standard wide frame aspect ratio, even films set in the 1800s, and while not having one of those things is not odd in itself, having both stands out immediately. As too does the style of filmmaking. This is a film that shifts from a Shakespearian melodrama to an almost Brechtian surrealist nightmare and the camera flows between the two with an expert hand. Given that it is in Black and White and given it is only showing a square frame, every scene becomes that more important to frame and light well. The use of shadow and light to highlight the character’s state of mind was another moment that really shined here.
This is one film where the casting makes or breaks it because we only have Robert and William on the screen for the vast majority of the run time. If you don’t buy into their character or their performances then the film is dead on arrival. Thankfully they cast one of the two best actors working at the moment and they show that dedication in spades. Just from watching this film you kind of get the feeling that this was not an easy shoot to work on, spending a large portion of your time damp/wet for months on end is never fun. William is here for the soliloquy, here for the whimsy, here for the cautionary warnings, and here for whatever is happening up in that lighthouse. Robert is playing someone who is a bit more reserved, but then that is more a mask protecting what is underneath. From the moment they land on the island you feel that something is going to go very wrong and it is these two personalities wonderfully acted that is at the core of it.
Where I think the film may lose it for a lot of people and to be fair I think I might be one of them, is with its tone. This is a film that swings wildly from dark disperse to scatological humour and then back again at a moment’s notice. I have had tonal whiplash before but never quite as bad as this and you could feel the effects of this reverberating throughout the audience as people sat there laughing but then feeling like they shouldn’t. This continues to escalate as the film gets odder as it progresses as it becomes less apparent just who is losing their minds. It is at this point where the film takes a sharp turn into the unsettling and it stays there for the rest of the film. The last twenty minutes were just a series of gasps and ‘oh damn’ that echoed across the cinema and when those credits rolled I had to take a moment to sit back and wonder what in the hell had I just watched.
In the end, do we recommend The Lighthouse? And, well, I think that is a difficult question to answer. On the one hand, the cinematography is phenomenal, the acting is spot on, and it did make me feel a lot of emotions. On the other, there are a lot of barriers to entry here, the tone, the violence, sex, and more unsettling aspects. I am I glad I watched it, yes, would I watch it again, probably not. If you did like the weirdness of The Lighthouse, can I also recommend to you What Did Jack Do? where David Lynch interrogates a monkey over a murder.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of The Lighthouse
Directed by – Robert Eggers
Written by – Robert Eggers & Max Eggers
Music by – Mark Korven
Cinematography by – Jarin Blaschke
Edited by – Louise Ford
Production/Distribution Companies – A24, Regency Enterprises, RT Features & Universal Pictures
Starring – Robert Pattinson & Willem Dafoe with Valeriia Karaman & Logan Hawkes
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 16; New Zealand: na; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R