Current Issue #488

Film Review:
The Lighthouse

Robert Eggers’ follow-up to his very fine first feature The Witch is a sometimes hysterical psychodramatic horror epic that’s been wildly overrated – probably due to the fact that, comparatively, most horror movies are awful.

Shot in trying and freezing conditions in Nova Scotia, and in black and white and the unusual 1.19:1 aspect ratio, it features Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, who apparently didn’t get along and used this to add to the sometimes fevered intensity of their, ahem, lighthouse-chewing performances.

Drawn vaguely from a fragment by Edgar Allan Poe, a real 1801 event and (of course) the works of the overly revered H.P. Lovecraft, this has old salt Thomas Wake (Dafoe) joined by ‘wickie’ Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) at a lighthouse on an island off the coast of New England somewhere in the 19th Century. The two secretive, obviously screwy men immediately seem ripe for Shining-like ‘cabin fever’, which makes you wonder why they were ever selected for the isolated gig in the first place – but it’s best not to ask questions like that.

Wake starts nagging the novice Winslow, who sets about his grim daily duties with a Pattinson-ian surliness and immediately senses that strange things might be happening in the endless sea surrounding them. There’s soon plenty more pseudo-creepy business going on as well: Winslow is troubled by dreams of tentacles and finned women; an ominous seagull shows up; Wake persists in stripping naked to visit the lantern room; and both of them hint at eerie yet fairly frustrating truths that director Eggers and his co-writing brother Max don’t properly explain until it’s too late.

After a first half that mainly implies lots of spooky stuff, we suddenly stray into a more outrageous, all-over-the-shop second, and while Pattinson’s performance remains understated and dour, Dafoe surprisingly camps it up on quite a scale, alternating between a high pitch of fearsome frenzy and moments where he comes across like the Sea Captain in The Simpsons.

However, and despite all that, this is still at times pretty damn scary, but the uncanny mood keeps being dissipated by undeniable silliness and a certain fishy pretension.

Reviewer Rating

The Lighthouse (MA) is now screening at selected cinemas

DM Bradley

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