Review

The Lighthouse Review: A Siren Call Of Aimless Insanity

  • First Released Oct 18, 2019
    released
  • movie

Two men go mad in a lighthouse.

Two men arrive on a barren island to tend the lighthouse that will keep ships from striking the rocky coast. They'll stay there four full weeks. As they approach the structure, the men they're replacing pass in silence, heading the opposite direction. Nobody speaks. Everything is black-and-white, shot on 35mm film in a square 1.19:1 ratio to add to the general anachronistic atmosphere.

This is Robert Eggers' The Lighthouse, co-written with his brother, Max Eggers. It's the director's second feature-length film, after 2016's The Witch, an impeccable low-budget horror movie about an isolated family of New England settlers terrorized by a witch in the early 17th century. At a festival screening in 2015, documented by IndieWire, Eggers said the films he had tried to make prior to The Witch "were too weird, too obscure," and so he turned to the horror genre. The Witch earned critical acclaim, and The Lighthouse feels like the director seizing the opportunity of his success to extend beyond conventional movie-making and create something truly strange.

And The Lighthouse certainly is that. Willem Dafoe's Thomas Wake and Robert Pattinson's Ephraim Winslow embark on a terrifying, painfully circuitous voyage into madness. Neither character is a reliable viewpoint; by the end, you won't even be sure what their names are. And that small point will be the least of your worries.

It starts out ordinarily enough. Winslow, the greener of the two lighthouse keepers, goes about his daily chores with bored resignation, while Wake mostly orders him around. Pattinson's performance is initially understated; he just wants to put in his time and collect his check when it's over. Meanwhile, Dafoe's character is a cartoonish Captain Ahab (as Winslow literally points out at one point); an even sillier caricature than the sea captain from The Simpsons. But Dafoe utterly sells every word he barks or growls, whether he's recounting the story of how he got his bum leg, or cursing Winslow to a slow, watery death for saying he doesn't like his cooking, in a monologue that seems like it will never end, the camera pushing closer and closer to Dafoe's weathered, bearded face, until it has nowhere left to go, and you're left simply enraptured by this unbelievably odd performance.

The Lighthouse is undeniably impressive in its craft: The environment, the set design, the claustrophobic camerawork, the black-and-white, the inspired boxy picture, the classical, unnerving score--it all works together to create an engrossing uneasiness present from the very first shot to the moment the credits roll. But unfortunately, too much occurs in between those two points, and not enough of it actually matters.

Toward the beginning, as mysteries begin to unfold, The Lighthouse holds promise beyond its archaic aesthetic and eccentric performances. Winslow dreams of a mermaid's siren call, of soggy logs floating in the tide, and the back of a fair-haired head. He's tormented by a one-eyed seagull. He glimpses strange tentacles at the top of the titular lighthouse, where Wake has forbidden him to enter. The older keeper jealously guards the keys, along with a tome-like journal that might hold untold secrets.

The Lighthouse's big problem is that few of these enticing enigmas ultimately amount to anything, and the movie's few actual revelations come and go with little impact on the events playing out onscreen. Winslow might discover something incredible or horrifying, but after a moment of panic or ecstasy, he usually just goes back to feeding coal to the foghorn or swabbing the floors.

Winslow's solitary facade evaporates as soon as he gives in to Wake's constant pressure to have a drink together, and the movie's reality breaks down quickly from there. Yet another enticing mystery is presented when a never-ending storm prevents the boat meant to relieve them from arriving; the movie begins to ask questions like, "How long have they actually been here?" and "Is any of this even real?"

The trouble is that there are no real answers, and without resolution, those questions become trite. You might spend the entire movie waiting for a payoff that never arrives; unlike in The Witch, there's no Black Phillip moment in The Lighthouse. Pattinson and Dafoe's characters seem stuck in a loop, stranded on this rock with diminishing supplies, plagued by suspicions and hallucinations, on a bender that never ends, even when they run out of booze (kerosene with honey does the trick just as well, if not better). The plot circles back on itself without reprieve--they work, they masturbate, they drink, they fight, they laugh, they dance, rinse, repeat. By the end, all the big questions and the answers that might have been go out the window and get washed away in the stormy sea as the whole thing devolves into an aggravating--albeit mesmerizing--orgy of salty weirdness.

The Lighthouse ultimately reveals itself to be more like Darren Aronofsky's overstuffed, frustrating, and self-indulgent 2017 film Mother! than the tight, grounded, shocking thriller fans of The Witch might be hoping for. Watching The Lighthouse is a unique experience, and if the concept sounds intriguing to you, it's worth diving in just to see for yourself. But unlike The Witch, this is one movie we won't be rewatching every Halloween from now on.

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The Good
Haunting aesthetic
Technically incredible (camerawork, set design, etc.)
Strange but mesmerizing performances from Dafoe and Pattinson
The Bad
Plot meanders in circles
Presents plenty of mysteries, but lacks payoff
Loses its way as it devolves into an orgy of weirdness
6
Fair
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Mike Rougeau is GameSpot's Senior Entertainment Editor. He loves Game of Thrones and dogs.
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WeThePeople

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Literally just made an account after reading some of the comments to say that I love the movie reviews. Good stuff Rougeau! The Witch was actually a great film and although your review wasn't stellar concerning The Lighthouse, I still look forward to watching this film.

Watching non-mainstream films isn't "hipster", it's cultured. I love how Gamespot has encompassed more than just game reviews because the overlapping interests are similar to my own! It's cool I can go to this website and see articles that reflect many of my own interests that aren't just gaming. Yes, it's called Gamespot but that doesn't mean it can't expand and encompass more facets of media that other gamers might be interested in.

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mrougeau

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mrougeau  Staff

@wethepeople: Genuinely, thank you for this comment.

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lionheartssj1

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Did they send out review invitations for this movie (I don't know how that works)? I'm a little surprised both IGN and GS reviewed a niche film like this. I've actually noticed GS and IGN reviews track very closely considering all the games and films available for review (major releases aside).

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mrougeau

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mrougeau  Staff

@lionheartssj1: It's being shown at festivals this week (we have a writer at TIFF, you may notice some of his reviews on the site right now), and they also held a press screening in LA.

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lionheartssj1

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@mrougeau: Ah, gotcha. Do you guys have a N. American office in Toronto (or Canada in general)? Your main one is San Fransisco area, no?

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mrougeau

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mrougeau  Staff

@lionheartssj1: We don't. Main office is in SF, while the general entertainment team is here in LA. We also have a team in NYC.

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WeThePeople

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@lionheartssj1: I have as well, anyone know why that is? I utilize both websites as well

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mrougeau

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mrougeau  Staff

@wethepeople: We both tend to cover the same genre stuff that leans on the nerdy side (horror, sci-fi, fantasy, superheros). In this case, horror.

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Daidochus

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Michael "The hipster" Rougeau

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AfroMakka

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just fyi , the witch was a garbage movie !!!!

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RestatBonfire

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Edited By RestatBonfire

@afromakka: what was garbage about it? The script alone was great.

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AfroMakka

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@restatbonfire: it wasn't scary or creepy for starters , and i am just curious what was great about the script ?

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RestatBonfire

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@afromakka: the writing was stellar and the actors did a very good job of making it feel like the early 1700's. A Horror movie doesn't mean jump scares btw.

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AfroMakka

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@restatbonfire: yeh i hate jump scares but the movie was a snooze fest for me , people were laughing all around and the movie ...eh how can i put it ? the story was all over the place

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RestatBonfire

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@afromakka: what horror movies do you like?

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AfroMakka

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@restatbonfire: the first Conjuring movie , Excorcism of Emily Rose , IT , The Shinning , The Babadook , Mama - wasnt so good - and The Ring

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RestatBonfire

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@afromakka: I can see how you didn't like the witch then haha. Some of my favorites are it follows, the others, hereditary, as above so below I highly recommend

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AfroMakka

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@restatbonfire: hereditary ... i hated that movie xD iam all in for a creepy story but , what the **** is goin on in that movie ?!?!?!?

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lionheartssj1

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@restatbonfire: I'm wondering as well. The story really didn't blow me away, but I enjoyed the technical aspect of how the film was made.

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blondie_82

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You people at this site need to really stop reviewing movies because y’all have shit taste and hardly anyone comments.

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