Review: ‘The Lighthouse;’ you’ll love it or hate it

Photo courtesy of AP Images. U.S. actor Willem Dafoe speaks during the presentation of the film “The Lighthouse” at the Morelia Film Festival, Oct. 22, 2019 in Morelia, México.



If you combine Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, ‘The Birds,’ any three-stooges comedy and the scariest psychological thriller you’ve ever seen, you’ll like this horror flick. Otherwise, take a pass. 

There’s no in-between on this one; audiences will either be drawn to ‘The Lighthouse’s’ hypnotic, can’t look away tone and feel, or they will be so turned off, that an early exit might be a preferred option. Either way, this black and white period piece will linger long afterward with strong opinions on both sides of the movie fence.

‘The Lighthouse’ is the tale of two lighthouse keepers, Thomas Wake and Ephraim Winslow, played by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattison, respectively. They arrive at a mysterious, unnamed New England island in the 1890s for a one-month contract. 

Willem Dafoe, who plays Wake, has spent most of his life working lighthouses. He’s known as a wikie – a lighthouse keeper. He’s quick-tempered, a bully and secretive. Robert Pattison, plays Winslow, a down-on-your-luck character, who takes the job to earn quick cash. He has never been on an isolated island or in a lighthouse before. 

Together, it’s their job to maintain the lighthouse against the ferocious elements that disfigure the island with pounding waves and winds. The elements conspire to create suspicion about each other, then fear. Ultimately, the wind and the waves rob both men of their sanity. Their downward spiral is both hypnotic and frankly, visually revolting. It’s hard to look away, but impossible not to. Hell has picked the perfect location to establish its beachhead.

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattison are brilliant. They play off each other like an old married couple who has only one thing left in their marriage; the constant bickering that comes when two people can’t stand each other and no longer care. AND it’s that sheer magnetic dance of their escalating conflict that draws you deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the island and its spirit-robbing effect on the two lighthouse keepers.

Willem Dafoe’s haunting eyes and gaunt face paint the picture of a burnt-out man who has slipped over the edge. He’s the picture-perfect madman, complete with wild hair, filthy clothes and a tongue that whips Winslow into both fury and submission. Robert Pattison is almost indistinguishable. His dark circles, his lifeless stare and erupting anger show a tortured soul desperately trying to hang on to his sanity.

The movie ends as it begins with the sea fog feeding off both the island and the souls who are trying to care for it. The last scene is so visually disturbing; it’s still hard to think about without getting squeamish.

It’s on the strength of his horror masterpiece, ‘The Witch’, that Robert Eggers capably directs this next movie. On paper, ‘The Lighthouse’ showcases brilliant cinematography, one of a kind sets and a musical score that should get a best-supporting actor nod at the Oscars. The musical score is more like the winds, the waves, the seagulls and the sounds of madness all rolled into one long, terrifying, non-stop scream. 

Beyond its masterful production value, there are enough problems to turn off even the most avid horror-flick fans. The biggest gamble, which didn’t pay off, was having the two men speak in the language of the day. It’s hard to understand the old-style English language, and it’s even harder to understand the meaning of what the actors are saying. In the end, many in the audience had to rely on the visuals to understand what was going on in a scene. Often, either the music and/or the elements surrounding the men drowned out their dialogue. Real. But not effective. 

The other gamble was over-using three-stooges humor. The repeating scenes of both men farting after a big meal is at first funny. It gets tiring when the gag is repeated over and over again. There are other similar examples where that kind of humor is over-used.

The director did use black and white and close shots effectively. Eggers was able to create this claustrophobic environment that we could all feel and be part of. It never felt so good to get back into the warm daylight to breathe the fresh air once again.

This film is receiving two ratings — one for production value; the other rating for whether audiences will connect to the story.

My rating for production value is 4.5 out of 5.

My rating for likeability is 2 out of 5.

 Even with great production values, if the audience can’t connect to the story, then the film is a masterful piece of story-telling that doesn’t work.

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, Valeiria Karaman

Director: Robert Eggers

Producers: Rodrigo Teixeira, Jay Van Hoy, Robert Eggers, Lourenco Sant’Anna, Youree Henley

Released by: A24

Running time: 110 minutes

Gail Pischak is a second-semester film student that hopes to make short docs one day. Her hobby is movies, movies, movies.

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