A Filmmaker's Review: "The Lighthouse" (2019)
5/5 - Perfect Madness...
I had been meaning to watch this film ever since it had first come out but was cynical about the premise because I had heard somewhere that a sea monster and some cult-like shit was involved. I decided to pass on the film for over a year and so, when I did get around to watch it I became surprised by the fact that this was not something I was concentrating on in the film. What I was concentrating on, in fact, was the slowly declining sanity of the two men in the lighthouse and the splicing of various scenes together that, without the context of the drinking, the loss of food and the lack of human contact, would make little sense. In order to see the decline of their sanity, you have to really take it all in. However, this film does have its disadvantages as well and we will discuss the pros and cons briefly as we go through this review.
First of all, I want to discuss the performances of Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. If you’re like me and remember Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin and not much else then this role will well and truly surprise you. It is far better at his insanity attempt in Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” and is a brilliant performance as the malcontented overlord of madness and isolation. When it comes to Robert Pattinson, he is incredible at roles that require some amount of psychological breakdown. When I saw him in “Cosmopolis” I knew that this was true and this film here has only confirmed my viewpoint on this fact. Robert Pattinson is finally moving away from his typecast and becoming his own actor. He has found his main talent of character and is beginning to perfect it. He is very talented with characters who descend slowly into madness, whether it be a physical descent like in “The Lighthouse” or a psychological one as in “Cosmopolis” - like Zac Efron, he is very good at psychopaths and sociopaths. I look forward to his attempts at Batman.
Secondly, I would like to discuss how much I enjoyed the atmosphere of the film being shot entirely in black and white. This was not for the arthouse effect that everyone seems to think but it is actually for the impact of the atmosphere of the film. The more you watch the black and white nature of the film the more you are drawn back in time to this particular way of life. The more isolating it feels because of the lack of colour, because of the almost constant darkness and the way in which you cannot tell when the sun is really setting - you have to rely on the characterisation to tell you what time of day it is. It is something incredibly difficult to achieve but “The Artist” achieved it some years ago and “The Lighthouse” has achieved it in a completely different genre.
Thirdly, the cinematography is up for discussion since it was nominated for an Academy Award and rightly so. The various shots in which we see close ups of ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ are incredibly effective. We see close-ups of a book, of a tap, of a bird, of the sea - these things are all static and silent in shot. These things all have some sort of impact on the protagonist slowly descending into madness. Whereas, we get long shots of the house, the lighthouse and these things in which individuals who are inside would seem small and insignificant. This is a part of the existentialism which seems to haunt the film.
Throughout it, you’re constantly waiting for the jump-scare since you know it is a psychological horror but instead, you get these silent shots which are far more frightening. They are not frightening because of what they are, but because of what they represent and the more you understand them, the worse the meaning becomes, the more vivid the nightmare is in your mind. It truly is a psychological terror trip. The film is a constant test of sanity as its characters descend, you descend with them. It is impossible to detach yourself from the ending. It lingers as an image of absolute paralytic psychological horror. The very meaning of the psychological, existential nightmare becomes realised and it is the meaning behind it that will haunt you instead of the image itself in its physicality.