Remember when Twilight was a thing? Yeah me neither. But, it seems like everyone’s favorite vampire, Edward Cullen has been making a living off of abstract arthouse films, with this year’s The Lighthouse being the latest example. Directed by Robert Eggers and starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, the film follows two lighthouse keepers who begin to notice strange occurrences over the course of their stay. There’s a lot to love about this film, but does it deserve the critical praise it’s been receiving?
This year has been a great year for inventive new horror films, with Midsommar and Us being the two standouts, and The Lighthouse stacks up pretty well. The one thing it excels at more so than any other horror film from this year its creation of atmosphere and tension. It wastes no time in establishing the secluded nature of the setting and thus creating tension between the two leads. For nearly the entire runtime, it feels as though the viewer is walking on a tightrope and the slightest misstep will result in the worst possible situation. The feeling of ever-present dread is one of The Lighthouse’s strongest characteristics; and that just goes to show how tight the writing of the central narrative is.
It’s safe to say that this film would be nothing without Dafoe and Pattinson, both of them pulling off career-best performances. To be more specific, however, it’s the chemistry between them that really makes all of the difference. From the intense to the deeply intimate, the two of them have a lot to tackle as actors but everything in the film is handled with such care that you’re not going to be leaving the theatre feeling nothing once the film has ended. Of course, Robert Eggers had a large hand in this as well; it’s clear that he went into the production of this film knowing exactly what he wanted. Every interaction between Dafoe and Pattinson, every shot, every line of dialogue, it all felt as though it needed to be there. There’s no fluff to be found in The Lighthouse.
With such dark subject matter, it’s safe to say that what made the film most watchable is its cinematography. This goes back to Egger’s masterful planning and execution. Even weeks after watching the film, I find myself thinking back to certain shots and sequences, not only because of their beauty but also because of their impact on the plot. More often than not, things that may initially seem to be some sort of visual flourish end up being foreshadowing for later events. The Lighthouse is “show don’t tell” in the best possible ways.
Now, many critics have regarded this film as nearly perfect. I am not such critic. The thing that got to me most was how smart The Lighthouse found itself to be. Let me start off by saying that the fact that a film is smart isn’t a bad thing. All of my favorite films are considered smart, however, once a film gets a sense of its own ego is when I start to have issues. The Lighthouse does this very thing by stuffing so much symbolism into its runtime, that by the end, I found myself thinking “what was the point of that”. And I promise you, this isn’t just me being dumb or reading too far into things. After doing some research, I found that most of what I was picking up on was intended by the director, and what I’ve got to ask him is why? The most apparent example of this throughout the film was the connection of Pattinson’s character, Winslow, to the greek figure Prometheus. Like yeah, a lighthouse has fire and Prometheus returns fire to humans, but I don’t see any further connection between the two besides the fact that they both involve fire. All of this results in a film that is complex but doesn’t have any purpose or moral to make the film significant.
The Lighthouse is not going to be for everyone, however, despite its flaws, I could see many artistically inclined students going to see this film and adoring it. My final consensus? Go see it, but at your own discretion.
I give The Lighthouse a three and a half out of five stars.