The Lighthouse tells a tale of drunken insanity stranded on a rock and cocooned within a symphony of foghorns. Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Defoe) – two lighthouse keepers – expect to spend only four weeks together looking after a lighthouse on a remote island in New England, though they eventually find themselves stuck with each other for much longer. Directed by Robert Eggers (director of the 2015 A24 horror film, The VVitch), The Lighthouse is woven with a thread of superstition, namely the belief that it is bad luck to kill a seabird. This motif is incredibly important and pulls the story to its strange, surreal end.
In complete and utter honesty, this film made me incredibly uncomfortable. From the masturbation scene at the beginning, to the masturbation scene at the end, there were certainly too many masturbation scenes. Aside from that barrier to my enjoyment, I did find the film to have quite good qualities, once I was able to spot them, that is. (Thank you, 1:1 aspect ratio for making an appearance for the first time in 100 years.) The performances of Pattinson and Defoe are remarkable, especially considering how the two actors had to carry the entire film on their shoulders. This being said, Pattinson’s attempt at a late-1800s New England accent tended to falter at times, though this wasn’t too much of a distraction from how well he played his character. Defoe’s performance was undeniably the best: raw, gruff, and disgusting, Thomas Wake is certainly a difficult-to-redeem character, and Defoe played him with ease and power.
In terms of the actual story, The Lighthouse is fairly simple, however, the added elements of hallucinatory visions brought upon by drunken cabin fever definitely add a surreal and necessary layer to the film. These visions are accompanied throughout the entire movie by a very bare bones score comprised of crescendoing foghorns, whistling wind, and crashing waves. The moments in which actual instruments can be heard lack percussion; all that the viewer can hear are horns and woodwinds bellowing along to their foghorn counterparts.
There is a lot to enjoy in The Lighthouse, though there certainly is a lot to be desired. Its strangeness tends to overpower any sort of artistry, and its artistry has been steeping in pretension for a little too long. Although The Lighthouse is well-shot, well-acted, and brilliantly scored, I left the theater wanting more from the story.