‘The Lighthouse’ centres on a wise old lighthouse keeper, played by Willem Dafoe, and his new apprentice, played by Robert Pattinson. Alone besides the other person, madness starts to settle in after a short while.
The sound design and score of this film is superb, the constant ominous boom of the horn instantly adds a sense of dread and eeriness whenever it bellows out. The use of seagulls combined with the score, really accentuates the constant lack of peace on the small island, and intentionally gets annoying. The score feels very authentic to the time period but doesn’t feel dated at all, as it still inflicts the cold and lonely moments perfectly.
The film is shot authentically for the time period, 1.19:1, which means it’s almost an exact square and while it is jarring once the film begins, within 10 minutes the audience is absorbed into this small, black and white square. The screen ration also adds to the claustrophobia of the film, nowhere to go, just confined inside a horrific place. The black bars on either side of the image also somehow add to the sense of dread, signifying emptiness, a black, hollow void.
Robert Pattinson as the apprentice as it were, is fantastic bringing this almost pompous, youngblood energy to the character which is in perfect contrast to Willem Dafoes’ character, an old sea dog curmudgeon stuck in the old ways of doing things, with lots of grunts and farts as he barks his orders. While Pattinson is fantastic, Willem Dafoe is on a whole other level with his performance. The bellowing speeches and rambling grumbles are utterly enthralling and hypnotic, which are only enhanced by Dafoe fully leaning into the old timey sailor accent.
The chemistry the two actors have is palpable, they bounce off of each other no matter what the scene calls for, in a tense scene, they’re butting heads and you can feel the anger and raw hatred. Then in a more light-hearted scene they’re bouncing off each other like a bunch of old friends. A film that centres on two people lives and dies by the actors in the roles and these two absolutely brought the best out in each other, it was an absolute joy to watch.
The script is unfortunately the films biggest weakness, while the dialogue is fantastic and befitting the characters, yes, even the rambles. It is the actual story beats that feel very weak, and the film feels like it is aiming too hard to be surreal horror instead of what it should have been, a taut thriller with some sprinklings of horror. The way in which the story unfolds at times becomes nonsensical and seems to get too carried away with itself, which is the problem with doing a film about a character, or characters going mad, it sort of starts to develop the same problem as an unreliable narrator. The audience isn’t sure of what is real or not.
While not having a paint-by-numbers story is fine and if well done, has the ability to be excellent, this film felt a little like Robert Eggers, who directed and co-wrote the film, was throwing whatever he thought would be fitting on the screen and while it made for some interesting scenes and shots, it just made the film feel muddled and not quite fully developed.