‘The Lighthouse’ is a spellbinding tour-de-force for Defoe, Pattinson
Jacob Neisewander | Tuesday, February 4, 2020
Hark! “The Lighthouse” is the second feature film from up-and-coming horror director Robert Eggers. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe star as two lighthouse keepers slowly descending into madness after being stranded at their station. While the technical aspects of “The Lighthouse” alone are certainty worth the price of admission, it’s Pattinson and Dafoe’s performances that truly make this film a must see for fans of Eggers and the horror genre.
The film fills its 1.19:1 aspect ratio (old-timey, nearly square) with 110 minutes of surreal and disturbing imagery, all in black and white. The unique visual style and tone of “The Lighthouse” give the film a feel that is entirely its own. Its smart script is allegorical and laser-focused with dialogue sharp and charmingly eccentric: perfect tools for the captivating performers.
The success of “The Lighthouse,” however, lies primarily in the film’s premise, which is as simple as it is electric. Pattinson’s young Ephraim Winslow and Dafoe’s grizzled Thomas Wake find themselves locked in a spellbinding duel of madness and psychological warfare after a terrible storm wreaks havoc on their small lighthouse. Isolation only initiating the men’s troubles.
The titular lighthouse has its own secrets and sinister role to play in the unraveling of sanity on the island. Before long, it becomes impossible to discern whether the relentless storm, enchanting light or inner demons of the two men are responsible for Winslow and Wake’s increasingly shaky grip on reality.
It’s a shame Dafoe was not nominated for an Oscar, his “Lighthouse” performance joining “Uncut Gems’” Adam Sandler and “Little Women’s” Greta Gerwig among the ranks of the notably snubbed. Jarin Blaschke has collected “The Lighthouse’s” only nomination in this year’s ceremony for his haunting cinematography.
Dafoe and Pattinson fight, dance, drink and generally make life on the remote island a living hell for one another as an archetypal pairing of terrible roommates. “The Lighthouse” walks an often-times hilarious line between self-indulgent arthouse cinema and shameless fart jokes. I laughed more than I screamed, and cringed more than I squirmed at the bizarre spiral of insanity onscreen.
That said, some viewers may be turned off by the film’s excessively disturbing imagery and slow-burn narrative structure. Those looking for more than a twisted ghost tale with thrilling performances will likely be left wanting something more substantive than what can found in “The Lighthouse’s” strange premise. But for fans of Egger’s, “The Lighthouse” is as charming as it is enchanting.
“The Lighthouse” also made me realize just how grateful I am for the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center and Browning Cinema. Before the screening in Browning Cinema, the only available option to see “The Lighthouse” necessitated at least an hour’s worth of driving from campus. For weeks, I dejectedly accepted my inability to experience the film on the big screen.
Thankfully, Browning Cinema has provided an exceptionally diverse and fantastic selection of films this year. If you haven’t visited Browning, you should! Much like Egger’s lighthouse, there is an enchantment present for those willing to take a look.
Movie: “The Lighthouse”
Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson
If you like: “Witch,” “Good Time”
Shamrocks: 5 out of 5