After wowing audiences with his feature-length debut The Witch, writer/director Robert Eggers takes a big swing with The Lighthouse – a film with more specifications and fewer actors. His latest film connected with many (our own Shahbaz Khayambashi loved it at TIFF), but it didn’t work for me. I can appreciate the dedication of Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe (which translates into their memorable performances), but the actors are wasted on a movie that’s too muddled and inconsistent for its own good.
The peculiar story takes place on an isolated island. The island’s only inhabitants are two lighthouse keepers; one is authoritative (Dafoe) while the other takes on maintenance duties (Pattinson). They socialize with each other during suppers, and learn how to break up the boredom with alcohol and tomfoolery. But without a clear sense of time, the men start hallucinating with stir-crazy visions.
Eggers worked really well with a family dynamic in The Witch, but a larger ensemble always increases the chances of interesting factors; whether it’s a relationship the audience cares about or an atmospheric subtext between characters – The Witch had both. Eggers whittles down The Lighthouse to a single relationship between two surly sea dogs, and it simply doesn’t cut the mustard. Pattinson and Dafoe are under a lot of pressure to carry Eggers’ script (which he co-wrote with his brother Max) and follow through on his ambiguous directional choices. Unfortunately, the characters aren’t full realized (they’re more like caricatures of generic sailors) and the wishy-washy psychological intensity doesn’t suggest towards anything compelling. The Academy Award nominated cinematography is nice, but I couldn’t help but feel like it was being used to mask some of the film’s insufficiencies.
The Lighthouse is ambitious, but very disappointing. Robert Eggers is still a filmmaker to watch out for, but he’s going to have to step up his game if he chooses minimalist storytelling again.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie