‘The Lighthouse’ flickers but doesn’t burn out

Andrew Bailey and Andrew Bailey

In all its pretentiousness and devotion to the time period, “The Lighthouse” went a bit too far with its own aesthetic but held its own in contemporary horror.

Starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, the film shows the unspeakable horrors that befall the two lighthouse workers on their secluded island. Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson), hired by Thomas Wake (Dafoe), a grizzled lighthouse keeper, comes to the island to start anew and earn some cash. However, Wake is not the boss he was hoping for, as he repeatedly forces Winslow to redo tasks for seemingly no reason and slowly gaslights him into insanity and revealing why he actually applied for the job.

With the relationship between the two being the rock that drives the film’s narrative, the dialogue is easily the most important feature of the film. However, the dialogue is where the film falters. Speaking with heavy New England accents and often using confusing old English jargon, the dialogue can be hard to follow at times, especially during the dinners the two share. The incomprehensible dialogue leaves important plot developments up to the audience to figure out with context clues and conjecture. Also, during some of his more intense scenes, Pattinson’s accent breaks, begging the question: were the thick accents really worth it? Could he have made the accents slightly more understandable for coherence’s sake?

The choice to use an aspect ratio of 1.19:1 was also a misstep, making the film look like a square and awkwardly not fitting the theater screen.

Aside from the accents and the aspect ratio, every other artistic choice made by the director, Robert Eggers, pays off. His decision to shoot the film in black and white gave a huge boost to the lighting. One scene in particular, when Dafoe is giving a haunting monologue, benefited greatly as Dafoe’s creepy face basked in the monochromatic lighting.

As for the story of the film, it meanders slightly in the beginning, coupled with the awful accents. But, once the tension starts to build and every crashing wave and chilling wind puts you on the edge of your seat, the film comes into its own.

Toward the climax, as both characters are becoming increasingly unstable, the film provides some horrific and uncomfortable imagery, such as an incredibly unsettling montage of masturbation and mania involving Pattinson’s character.

As with Eggers’ previous film, “The Witch,” many answers are left up to the audience to decipher, and the thematic and metaphorical elements of the film are subtly woven into its larger thread. The final shot of the film echoes the tale of the Greek legend of Prometheus, furthering the uncertainty of some of the film’s events and fates of the characters.

“The Lighthouse” provided an enthralling example of Eggers’ devotion to his craft. He meticulously selected each element of the film to create his tale, and although certain choices, like the heavy accents, should have been left on the cutting room floor, his sophomore directorial film crashes over you like a cold ocean wave and leaves you shivering with tension.