There hasn’t been a film so personally polarizing for me in a very long time. The Lighthouse is a difficult film to review because stylistically in the first half of the film I fell in love. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are lighthouse keepers dropped off on a remote island and living in isolation as they tend to the lighthouse. From the very beginning, it is obvious that Robert Eggers has an incredible eye for creating art. The black and white film starts quickly establishing a rhythm and beat with the swaying of the men on the boat, the sound of the water, the horn, etc. It works in the best way to establish a distinct atmosphere and create a sense of outsiderness. The work of balancing light and dark with the film is very effective. Every single scene is so perfectly framed that it could be stopped and printed as a picture. There is no denying that. The wall that I seemed to hit revolves around the storytelling.
For the first half of the film, I felt entranced in this world created by Eggers. Pattinson and Dafoe are magic together and captivate the audience with the high-stakes tension and uncertainty of the future. The tenacity at which they embrace and attack these roles is amazing on their own but add them together and it is just on another level. There is no denying the natural and raw talent from these two actors. The film 100% relies on their chemistry and skill as actors to create an entire world. Their emotions and their facial mannerisms convey everything we need to know, which is the mark of a highly skilled actor.
Where my problems arise are in the second half. There are so many different avenues the film could have taken to pack a powerful punch that would result from the storytelling as opposed to the visual shock value of a scene. I feel like the psychological uncertainty and suspense would have been better served without these overly gory and visceral scenes that distract from the tension and suspense created in the first half. We rely so heavily on the phenomenal performances of the two actors to create this suspense that doesn’t pay off in a satisfying way. The subtle nods to Robert Pattinson’s character losing his mind work well because they add a little bit of a mystical element to them, but the full-on violence and grittiness of it feels like it cheapens the first half of the film.
I can understand the praise that the film received out of Venice Film Festival because, in a lot of ways, it reminds me of older foreign films that would play well to the audience there. An intriguing premise and stellar performances by the two actors are the shining lights of the film, but it tends to deviate too much to pay off in the end. The Lighthouse has big promise but loses the momentum it creates in overindulgence and vulgarity.