I have to admit that I was expecting a lot from Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, the followup to 2015’s The Vvitch.
And I also have to admit those expectations were, for the most part, dashed.
Though crushed expectations notwithstanding, if that were the only thing wrong with The Lighthouse I might have been able to enjoy it for what it was, as opposed to being based upon my (admittedly lofty) expectations.
The biggest problem being that while the story is relatively simple–Robert Pattison and Willem Dafoe play lighthouse keepers that due to the isolation gradually lose their minds–Eggers’ approach to the material comes often as precious and pretentious, instead of phantasmagorical.
It’s filmed in black and white for ‘reasons,’ and if that weren’t problematic enough the aspect ratio (letterboxing)–a way of transferring movies shot in a wide screen format to standard-width video formats–is unlike anything I’ve seen before.
I’m not a fan of letterboxing, but I do understand the point of it.
Now let’s look at the same picture, but using the letterboxing from The Lighthouse.
Now, you can move DeNiro to the center of the frame, but it still doesn’t change that there’s no reason to block out so much of the frame.
Now I was thinking that the look of the movie was intended to evoke something from an earlier period of cinema and that’s possible but being unfamiliar with whichever period it just irritates and strikes me as unnecessary.
I could go on and on but I suggest you instead watch Xavier Gens’ Cold Skin (2017), a movie that plot-wise is remarkably similar to The Lighthouse, though it’s filmed in color and sans the bizarre letterboxing and manages to create an atmosphere of isolation that The Lighthouse can’t.
Then there’s the sound design, which is as obnoxious as the visual presentation, just in a different way.
It’s such a frustrating movie, though if you’re able to get through it–it lasts just over 1 hour and 49 minutes, though feels much longer–the last third is a bit more subdued and really works, though it begins to sync just a bit too late to redeem what came before.