Do you like claustrophobic, frustrating, imaginative, dark, bonkers, and just plain weird low-budget movies? Yeah? Then have I got a movie for you?
Last night I went to the cinema (a posh, arty cinema no less) to watch The Lighthouse – a psychological horror film from director Robert Eggers. The movie stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, and is easily one of the craziest things I’ve watched in a long while – and I’ve seen Cats (2019).
The film tells the story of two lighthouse keepers who are stranded on a remote island in bad weather. As the weeks go by, the two men become friends, they quarrel, have disturbing visions, and in the case of Robert Pattinson, find some… er… ‘relief’ via a mermaid.
As mentioned during my opening line, The Lighthouse is bonkers, truly bonkers, and easily one of the most unique movies of the year (so far).
Going into the screening I had little knowledge of the film – and this was arguably a good thing. I wanted The Lighthouse to wash over me, and either hook me with its unique charm, or toss me out to sea. In many ways, it did both.
The Lighthouse is an interesting movie, but also an incredibly hard film to watch. While it is beautiful to look at, it is also disturbing at the same time, and for every moment that mesmerises, there is another that shocks.
During the final act there are a couple of scenes in particular that stay in the mind long after the credits have rolled – whether you want them in your mind or not. But to get to these moments there are lengthy periods where the movie relies heavily on increasingly heated exchanges between the two leads. I want to say all of these exchanges work and make this picture a must-see two-hander – but they don’t, and this causes problems.
Pattinson and Dafoe are great in their respective roles, with the latter in particular playing the part of a salty ol’ sea dog to perfection. Yet there are moments when it almost seems like the two actors are trying to out act each other.
At times the performances are genius. At other times they border on farcical.
Remember that scene in Friends, when Joey goes head-to-head with fellow actor Richard Crosby (as played by Gary Oldman), and the pair start spitting at each other to show how ‘method’ they are? Yeah, there are times when this is the same vibe that Pattinson and Dafoe give off, with scenes descending into lunacy and hilarity.
Watching these scenes play out, I was never quite sure if the director wanted this result or not. And that’s ultimately what The Lighthouse throws at the screen – moments where you’re not sure if to laugh, be horrified, or ask for your money back.
I can tell you that I got dashes of brilliance in The Lighthouse, like a fantastic avant-garde piece, with stunning creative touches. I can also tell you there are baffling moments that look like they have been made by a student filmmaker, who has watched too much Maya Deren.
Ultimately it was a little too long, and the tone was a little muddled in places. Yet, the lighting was superb, the atmosphere was haunting, and I felt incredibly uneasy throughout (a sign of a good horror).
The more I let The Lighthouse fester in my mind, the more I can appreciate what is on offer in this picture. I don’t think I would be ready to revisit it anytime soon, but there is something very interesting going on here, so maybe a second viewing will come in time. Maybe. But could I recommend it?
In all honesty, while there was much to like about The Lighthouse, including some of the most deliciously dark imagery committed to cinema, I could only give it a recommendation if it came with a caveat.
If you want to be challenged, if you want to be placed in an uncomfortable situation for the best part of two hours, unsure if you are having a good time or not, then go see this film. Heck, if you are simply curious about the cinematography, or you like Eggers’ previous work (The Witch) then go and see this film.
But understand this: The Lighthouse is not for everyone. Some will view this movie as too bizarre, and perhaps too unsettling to sit through, and they are not wrong. The Lighthouse is for those who seek it out and are prepared to expect the unexpected.
I liked it. I didn’t love it.