The Reel Review


Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe star in this character portrait of two lighthouse keepers and their descent into madness after a huge storm traps them well past their four week assignment on a desolate New England island outpost in 1890. It is loosely based on a real-life 1801 tragedy involving two Welsh lighthouse keepers.

Director Robert Eggers (The Witch) has proven himself a master of old-timey psychological horror, with his sophomore effort a hypnotic story that is as disturbing as it is fascinating to look at. Filmed in black and white and in an aspect ratio closer to a square than the more traditional, theater (and eye) friendly rectangle, this is a film intended to make moviegoers FEEL the effects of isolation and claustrophobia. And to that artistic effect, it is brilliantly done, with committed performances from Dafoe and Pattinson, carefully capturing the regional dialect and cadence of seamen during that era.

Unfortunately a brilliant looking film doesn’t always translate into a brilliant film. The Eggers brothers’ script is more bizarre performance art than it is a story, chocked full of imagery that, while presumably intended to be thought-provoking and symbolic, often crosses over into smug, eye-rolling pretentiousness. The dialects, while admirable, are also difficult, and at times even impossible, to understand. What starts off as an interesting art experiment ultimately ends as a tedious test of filmgoers’ patience.


• In writing their screenplay, director Robert Eggers says he and his brother Max researched the regional dialects of the era, to come up with an accurate delivery and jargon of that era’s two characters.

• Dafoe and Pattinson had very different approaches towards their performances, Dafoe favoring frequent rehearsals to perfect his performance, to Pattinson’s preference to not rehearse to keep his onscreen performance more fresh and spontaneous. Eggers says the tension resulted in an electric chemistry onscreen.

The Lighthouse was filmed in 35 days in Halifax and on Nova Scotia’s Cape Forchu under extreme weather conditions which included three Nor’easters. Eggers says during most of the filming there was no need for rain or wind machines, with the most dramatic scenes shot under actual conditions.


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