Saturday, February 15, 2020
THE VVITCH, which came out a couple years ago, was a film I made sure to see in the theater. It had plenty of eerie and uncanny moments, and its director, Robert Eggers, knew how to make use of stillness and sound.
Eggers' follow-up, THE LIGHTHOUSE, didn't even make it to any South Bend theaters in its original release. I finally caught up with at last night through Xfinity OnDemand.
THE LIGHTHOUSE tells the story of two men assigned to lighthouse duty on a desolate island off the east coast of America sometime in the late 1800s. The men, an old grizzled veteran (Willem Dafoe) and his younger associate (Robert Pattinson) are supposed to be on the island for only four weeks, but a major storm forces them to stay longer. Both men undergo a psychological breakdown during their time on the island, which may or may not be due to supernatural manifestations.
I was quite intrigued when I first heard about THE LIGHTHOUSE, particularly due to the fact that director Eggers (who also co-wrote the film) chose to make it in black & white, and use a non-widescreen aspect ratio. The story sets up all sorts of possibilities, which are never quite realized. Much of the film deals with what the two men do on the island day after day--Pattinson's time is filled with onerous duties, while Dafoe is obsessed with tending the beacon light. The two men engage in several weary dialogue exchanges, which give the actors a chance to ham it up (especially Dafoe).
At times the movie borders on parody, with Dafoe resembling the Old Sea Captain from THE SIMPSONS. There's plenty of symbolism and ambiguity, and I'm sure everything in the story was meant to have some sort of meaning. But interest starts to flag after awhile, and one gets tired watching two strange and unlikable characters shamble about.
THE LIGHTHOUSE has exemplary cinematography and sound design, and it has a doom-laden music score that fits the overall visual mood perfectly. It has some of the most atmospheric individual shots I've seen in a film recently. But I believe it would have worked better as a 60 minute B movie from the 1940s or 1950s, or as an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE or THE OUTER LIMITS. 109 minutes is way too long for such slight material. I would rather look at individual stills from THE LIGHTHOUSE than watch the movie over again.