The Lighthouse (2020) is an A24 horror film filmed with a smaller aspect ration than a majority of motion pictures to this day and shown in black and white. Directed by Robert Eggers, this film stars Robert Pattinson. Two lighthouse keepers must try to retain their sanity whilst living on a remote island in the 1800s.
There are only ever two main characters in the entire film, with any other appearances being very small roles or extras right at the start, so it is vital that you get two actors who can hold an entire film together. People have been judging Pattinson’s abilities since he took on the Twilight role over a decade ago, but he has proven what an actor he has become since those days. He is remarkable here, in a performance that takes so many different twists and turns. You never know what he is going to do next, and his reserved performance makes the loud moments even more shocking to watch. Willem Dafoe deserves a lot more recognition than he gets, with this performance being as demanding as it is. It did feel quite caricature to begin, but once the story settled in his character made a lot more sense to the story and I appreciated how bold the performance from Dafoe is.
Whenever I see a film take a different approach to filmmaking, such as a smaller aspect ratio and a black-and-white colour palette, I ask myself if there is a purpose to that choice. In this case, it is very clear to me why this was filmed the way that it was. Firstly, it was a film set in the 1800s, which helped give an old-fashioned look to the film. Secondly, the aspect ratio made me feel quite claustrophobic to the situation, being very close to the characters with less space for the background to take me away from the situation. This is exactly how this film is meant to make you feel, so in that case, it achieved its goals.
The Lighthouse is classified as a psychological horror, which is something I can definitely see where it is coming from. Personally, I was never truly horrified by any of the action on screen, but more fascinated as to where the characters were coming from and their descent into madness. This film did not scare me per se, but it did creep me out and there are some graphic sequences that were incredibly well filmed. The darkness of the film, in terms of the lack of lighting used away from the lighthouse sequences, also helped elevate the horror aspects.
There are some lighter scenes that are sprinkled every so often in and they feel so necessary, not only in terms of lightening the mood but to also get to find out about the characters. Both characters played by Pattinson and Dafoe are so mysterious that you want to know more about them. Whilst you certainly wouldn’t want to be friends with them, I want to see prequel stories about both of their lives and what happened, in particular for Dafoe’s character, for them to be where they are at that moment. When you care that much about characters this peculiar, it helps drive the narrative and care about the entire story.
This film has a very weird sense of humour, and one that I actually could have done without. I liked the lighter moments, for sure, but they came more in the drinking sequences and the monologues that they share. The Lighthouse is filled with weird fart jokes that never made me laugh and humour that felt out of place, especially considering how dark and twisted this film can get. There is one moment that involves a character acting like a dog, and I just felt confused about the situation and it took away from the horrors that occurred just beforehand. The humour may help ease the tension or even create more tension for other viewers, but to me, it just felt forced and over-the-top.
The entirety of the story is told in one location, focusing on two individual people with a lack of development of a physical or emotional journey outside of paranoia and hysteria. In this case, the film can move very slow, particularly in the middle section where it seems like there is no real final destination or goal for the characters outside of survival. Whilst I feel less repetition of sequences or a shorter runtime could have helped the pacing, this isn’t actually slow overall as a film because of how well it is shot and how brilliant both performances are.
This is a bizarre film and definitely not one for everyone. I left the screening wondering about my feelings about the film, unsure if it was all a bit over-the-top. However, the story is enthralling, the performances are engaging and the sensation that Eggers was trying to create worked extremely well. I would have perhaps liked it if it went even darker and didn’t take an almost humorous tone to some of its sequences, but I admire the passion behind the filmmaking and I am curious to see how it sits with me on a second watch.
Have you had a chance to see The Lighthouse yet? Did it leave you shocked and confused, or did you fall in love with it from the start? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and let’s have a discussion.