Choppy Seas

This lighthouse horror is a real wreck

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Lighthouse
Opens Oct. 25

2.5 out of 5

Of the new crop of horror auteurs out there, Robert Eggers is the one I’ve failed to latch onto. Maybe it’s the meticulous period recreation in his films, or the fastidious language, or the fact there’s nothing scary about his work.

Unless you’re a Puritan, or an old-timey sailor, it’s extremely hard to connect with The Witch or The Lighthouse. It’s not a deal breaker, but with characters as hermetically sealed as Eggers’, there is no room for empathy. The fact both films are technically immaculate and performed to the hilt accentuates the divide.

The Lighthouse’s 4:3 aspect ratio gives away the game. The narrow, black-and-white look intensifies the oppressive, claustrophobic environment in which the story unfolds. Two lighthouse keepers arrive at an isolated islet in the late 1800s. The older seaman, Wake (Willem Dafoe), plans to spend the four-week posting drinking and cavorting nude at the top of the lighthouse. Winslow (Robert Pattinson) aims to follow the rules. It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out they’re bound for conflict.

Never ending chores and the onset of cabin fever make Wake and Winslow highly suggestible to legends of the sea: seagulls, mermaid figurines, and the lighthouse beacon itself seem to acquire mystical properties as the days go by. When their ride back fails to materialize and there is no other way to reach civilization, madness takes hold of both men.

The mental deterioration of Wake and Winslow is impeccably executed, but the characters are so hard to stomach it’s hard to care. Dafoe and Pattinson, it’s clear, went through the wringer shooting The Lighthouse in Cape Forchu, Nova Scotia. More power to them. But I fail to see the point of this entire exercise.

As with The Witch, most of the dialogue comes from period logbooks, thick as molasses and often incomprehensible. It’s as if Eggers wants to convince us we’re watching something scary by suggesting we’re dumb if we don’t get it. Well, slap a dunce cap on me and call me Dopey.