The Lighthouse, starring Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe (who is always brilliant in every movie he is in), and Twilight’s Robert Pattinson, is the follow up film from director Robert Eggers, whose 2017 movie, The Witch, was an art house favorite. The Witch actually entertained. The Lighthouse is something else altogether.
There has been a lot of controversy lately about whether Marvel movies are trash, and whether or not films should be released exclusively in theaters (not day and date like Netflix tries to do). Studios have to balance a fine line when it comes to releasing their films because the ultimate goal is to make as much money as possible. In today’s world, many studios either jettison the idea of making and releasing ‘art house’ films, or they, in the case of the very small independent studios, (such as FilmRise, Vertical Entertainment, Saban Films, and even at times, A24, among others), release their films in a handful, if that, of theaters the same day they release it on Video On Demand.
With The Lighthouse, since it is an Oscar hopeful, in the eyes of many, the studio is going all out. They gave the film a platform release (an LA and NYC release its first weekend, and then slowly rolled it out across the country, exclusively in theaters) and are betting on word of mouth to allow it to succeed at the box office.
I give A24 a lot of credit. They give a lot of movies that wouldn’t ordinarily end up in theaters, or movies that would never be made by bigger studios, a chance that no other studio will. Midsommar, from earlier this year, was a critical success. It also earned just over $27 million at the U.S. box office. For a film that cost less than $5 million to produce, that is a pretty good ROI.
The acting in The Lighthouse showcases some of the best acting in movies released in theaters in 2019. But the plot, the pacing and, most importantly, the payoff at the end, are disappointing.
The studio bills the film as an hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers (Dafoe and Pattinson) on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.
There are really no other speaking characters in the film. It is just Pattinson and Dafoe. They end up stranded on an island for no one knows how long, really, and their descent into madness is shown in painstaking detail. So is every other day-to-day event. Dafoe’s Thomas Wake farts a lot. And Pattinson’s Ephraim Winslow loves masturbating while looking at a mermaid figurine carved out of a small piece of wood (that he finds abandoned, buried in the mattress he is sleeping on). According to reports, in one of the ejaculation scenes, the semen is really that of Pattinson.
There are hallucinations. Of Winslow enjoying sex with a mermaid on the beach in a storm. And of Winslow killing Wake.
There is also something strange in the lighthouse itself that Wake doesn’t want Winslow to see.
The Lighthouse is filmed in black and white and seems to have been shot in 16mm. The cinematography, by Jarin Blaschke (who also filmed The Witch), is spellbinding. The backdrop of the film, especially the scenes that were filmed outside, many of them in storms, is almost like a third character.
While Dafoe will most likely earn an Oscar nomination for his role in The Lighthouse, I don’t see Pattinson receiving an Oscar nomination for his work in the film. There is way too much competition in both the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories this time around.
The film is not for most. If sitting in a dark theater, watching two characters slowly melt down and literally go insane is something that interests you, without much in the way of a payoff at the end, then this is for you. If epics like Out of Africa, comedies like Moonstruck, thrillers like Fatal Attraction, sci-fi films like Aliens or The Fly or musicals like The Sound of Music are more your cup of tea, The Lighthouse will leave you very disappointed.