‘The Lighthouse’ is definitely a movie

Images courtesy A24.

9/10 A few weeks after Joker brought the “we live in a society” meme to incredibly vivid life, Robert Eggers and A24 one-upped it by bringing the mad munchkin viral video to theaters in The Lighthouse, which sees Robert Pattinson at one point scream, “You’re not God or my boss or my father!”

In The Lighthouse, two lighthouse keepers (Willem Dafoe and Pattinson) set up on a remote island off the coast of New England for a four-week assignment. The elder keeper spends the entire night shift with the glorious holy light at the top of the tower and leaves all the hard day labor to his apprentice, who quickly loses his mind. 

The Lighthouse puts a lot of energy into presenting as more weird than it is. It was shot to resemble German Expressionist film with an almost square 1.19:1 aspect ratio and in black and white – that’s not a post-production conversion, they dug up camera lenses from as long ago as 1912 to get it how they wanted within the camera, although they obviously did work in post to deepen the shadows. This is one of the highest contrast movies to come out in several years. The lighting and Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography make outstanding use of color’s absence to generate, if nothing else, some truly striking images. 

Writer/director Robert Eggers’ ear for writing believable period dialogue is obviously beyond compare, partially because nobody else is trying to do it. Like his stellar 2016 debut The Witch, The Lighthouse is steeped in the language and most obscure folklore of its location. I’m really looking forward to subtitles here. That said, the film itself is so much more driven by its unique visual language and its stellar performances driven so much more by energy than actual words the dialogue itself doesn’t really matter. It may as well be in tongues. 

The Lighthouse was sold mostly as a psychological horror film, but it’s not scary. The whole thing is quite easy to take at face value – Pattinson’s hallucinations are so ridiculous and the rest of the plot is quite straightforward if you accept both men’s strange behavior, so there isn’t a really trippy element to it. 

Most horror is designed to attack the audience with jumps and discomfort, but this film attacks Pattinson’s character instead, and we watch him go mad entirely from the outside, so it doesn’t get under your skin in nearly the same way something like The Witch or Hereditary does. We do get a bit of a window into him with the sound design – Pattinson frequently reacts to non-diagetic sound, sounds that only he and we, the audience, can hear. 

It’s more of a very well-disguised actor showcase, which is completely fine when you get these spectacular, veteran actors to hold the screen. Pattinson is a stallion of a performer and was well-regarded before being cast in Twilight, and his recent casting as Batman signals his career has finally recovered from that. Dafoe is one of the best actors of all time, and the two of them are completely unleashed here. With Eggers focused on getting the tech just so, you can tell how much control the actors had over the production – in most cases that’s a very bad thing, but with two guys who are as reportedly professional as Pattinson and Dafoe, it’s turned out wonderfully. 

Eggers’s next film, hopefully, will be a remake of Nosferatu for it’s 100 year anniversary in 2022, a project he’s been attached to for years now but might not get off the ground fast enough. I really hope that movie gets made, but I’m not sure he’s the one to make it. Eggers makes weird movies, and a Nosferatu remake shouldn’t be weird. It should be a celebration of the way German Expressionism, and that film in particular, have defined normalcy in cinema, even for 100 years.

The Lighthouse, though clearly heavily inspired by that same German Expressionism, is a weird movie, and for viewers looking for something different, it’s about as much weird as anyone can handle.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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