My latest film is another that has fallen under the radar of the public eye. So much so, that even I was surprised by what I found. When I chose “The Lighthouse” as my next review, I was expecting a drama/thriller of some kind, what I got instead was a mystifying horror film on par with Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”
The story takes place during the 1890s as two lighthouse keepers arrive on an isolated island. There’s the young and quiet Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and his supervisor, the elderly but irritable Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). While Winslow is given the more taxing duties, Wake assumes the role of looking after the light in the lantern room at the top of the tower, going so far as to lock off access to it himself. Soon, however, Winslow begins to notice strange things happening across the island as he encounters hostile seagulls, disturbing visions, and strange noises coming from the seashore. As the weeks pass and their rations deplete, so does the sanity and trust between Winslow and Wake as they soon are left stranded when a nasty storm swallows the remote island, barring off all ferry access.
So, this was quite possibly the strangest and most bizarre film I’ve seen in a long time, but I’m happy about it. As I said in the beginning, I had been led to believe “The Lighthouse” would be more of a drama, not a straight horror tale. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a problem, but given current events, horror stories are probably something I should avoid. However, the movie is like a Ghost Story—the good kind of scary. The buildup is grounded in enough realism that you can believe what is happening, but the spookiness is strange enough that once it’s over you’re left frightened, but aware that’s it’s still a fictitious story. And sometimes a good Ghost Story is a fun way to take our minds off the real scary things in the world—like taxes and bills. I’ll take a haunted house over a mortgaged house any day.
“The Lighthouse” is a unique form of horror storytelling; there’s no jump scares or anything like that. Instead, it relies on the mystery, atmosphere, sound, and acting to convey fear. The whole film is a combination that borrows the surreal style of filmmaking from a David Lynch movie and mixes it with the dark storytelling elements of an H.P. Lovecraft tale. More than that, the filmmakers took this period piece film seriously by shooting the entire thing in Black and White—they even used an old 1930s Baltar Lens—which gives the movie a claustrophobic look and almost haunting atmosphere.
Usually in a scary story, the viewer can tell who’s the one going crazy, or who’s the protagonist we’re supposed to root for, however, that’s not how it goes for “The Lighthouse.” The film plays tricks on the characters AND the audience—there are times where it’s hard to tell if one character’s crazy or just lying. Both characters are distant enough that we can’t sympathize with them, but not enough that we aren’t invested in them, and Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson give what must be the most draining performances of their careers thus far as they go through every emotion under the rainbow.
“The Lighthouse” is rated R for sexual content, nudity, violence, disturbing images, and some language. Given current events, I can understand why some viewers might want to shy away from a horror story, however, I still recommend adding this film to your watchlist for later. Once the pandemic has concluded, give it a watch, maybe even on a Halloween night. Unless you’re someone who works at a lighthouse. If a lighthouse keeper is reading this, you should probably avoid this film and go watch “Star Wars” or something. Regardless, the final score for “The Lighthouse” is an 8 out of 10.
Matthew Mendisana is a Lynn University alumnus. While he possesses a Bachelor’s Degree in Science, it’s the arts that attracted his attention. He currently serves as a Journalist and Copy Editor to the Coastal Breeze News and is working on becoming a Published Author.