Starring: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe
Director: Robert Eggers
Running Time: 109 mins
The Lighthouse is an American film about two men who are sent to man an isolated lighthouse, and struggle to keep their sanity as they spend weeks on their own.
Bold, visually arresting and made with enormous passion, there’s no denying the uniqueness and audacity of The Lighthouse. But as a narrative piece, it’s an exhausting and at times even painful watch, failing to deliver a powerful or maddening portrayal of insanity throughout.
Instead, it’s a stylistically striking thriller that just doesn’t have the intensity beneath the surface to make for an all-encompassing, dizzying watch.
In short, The Lighthouse just didn’t do enough for me to back up its artistically bold style. But, let’s start briefly with the positives, the biggest of which does come in the form of that style – the definining characteristic of this film.
Shot in heavy black-and-white in classic aspect ratio, the film pulls out all the stops to land you deep in the world of 1890s New England, backing that up with rugged and sea-hardy production and costume design right the way through.
That makes the time period both convincing and striking throughout, but what really hits home about The Lighthouse’s style is just how intensely dirty and rough it all comes across.
The black-and-white visuals play a big part in that, but it’s the way that director Robert Eggers lends so much focus to the muddy terrain on the isolated island and the harsh living conditions inside the lighthouse itself that gives the film such a potently rugged atmosphere.
The problem, however, is that the film’s style doesn’t go the extra mile and start to make you as mentally uncomfortable as it does physically. The mud and harshness of the two men’s life at the lighthouse is undeniably intense, but the film doesn’t quite provide a maddening sense of claustrophobia to the same degree.
As a result, the way that the narrative unfolds – following the two men’s descent into madness as they clash in a claustrophobic environment – never hits home in the powerful, affecting way intended.
Compared with director Robert Eggers’ other period horror, The VVitch, The Lighthouse really misses the mark when it comes to tapping into the emotional level of horror, and as such really lacks the power needed to make its challenging tale fully effective.
The passion and energy put into The Lighthouse is undeniable, from Eggers’ immense curiosity for the time period to the physicality of leads Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe’s performances. All of that makes the film a memorable and striking watch, but all of its strengths are on the surface, and very rarely hit home on a deeper level.
As a result, the film’s deliberately harsh atmosphere actually makes it an exhuasting watch, because it never wraps you up in a whirlwind of insanity, rather dragging you along by the scruff of the neck through the mud, without ever providing something more to really grab your attention.
So, despite the audacity and uniqueness of The Lighthouse, I found it a disappointing, superficial and regularly exhausting watch. It’s passionate and memorable, with strong directing and performances throughout, but it never uses its greatest strengths to the effect of wrapping you up in its tale of madness and claustrophobia. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 6.9.