The cast solely consists of Willem Dafoe as veteran wickie Thomas and Robert Pattinson as rookie Ephraim. Their weeks-long shift on the Lighthouse is both surprising and contains few surprises. Ephraim sought out this kind of job to get away from himself and his past, he chafes under Thomas’ leadership, and things decay from there. The legends that Thomas fills Ephraim’s head with at dinner seep into the latter’s daydreaming, but it’s the maxim to never kill a seabird that most rattles Ephraim when he impulsively clubs a combative gull to death. Like a salt-stained MacBeth, Ephraim makes prophecies comes true with increasingly erratic behavior doomed to clash against Thomas’ contradictory leadership tactics, such that he wants daytimes of strict obedience and evenings of drunken frivolity.
Both actors are going big as they can. Dafoe is one-upping Al Pacino in Devil’s Advocate, spitting out long curses while bulging his eyes. Pattinson is stretching his utility with several accents, moving from one New England locality to the next, depending on his state of drunkenness. As big as they both take it, Eggers understands that one can’t beseech Poseidon for vengeance and not generate a snicker or two. The Lighthouse is edited by Louise Ford like a comedy, with abrupt scene interruptions that accentuate the film’s wild emotional swings. Eggers is reprising some of his work in the Witch, especially in creating the sensation of constant surveillance for the characters. The comedic touches are a wholly new avenue after the deadly serious Witch, and thanks to his actors and Ford, he’s often successful.
Much of the experience of watching the Lighthouse is marveling at its existence. That feeling often coincides with my falling in love with a film. If one watches enough movies, difference becomes a great asset. Here, however, there’s not enough meat on these strange bones to be much more than the strangeness itself, or, in Eggers’ particular case, a deeply researched piece of cultural recreation. It’s appreciated to be given a sense of what it was like to tend a lighthouse 125 years ago, but I could’ve guessed that, as The Lighthouse so ably demonstrates, it sucked. C+