It was just June of 2018 that we brought you our review of The Lighthouse. Confused? You will be. That review wasn’t for this The Lighthouse, it was for a different The Lighthouse, although they are both similar, yet different.
For starters, The Lighthouse (2019 version), has a much larger budget than the 2016 version (which took a few years to be released, in 2018) and has two a-listers in place in Willem Dafoe (“Aquaman“, “Murder On The Orient Express“) and Robert Pattinson (“High Life“, “Good Time“).
The director of the 2019 version, Robert Eggers (“The Witch”, “Brothers (Short)”) elects to film in, for all intense and purposes, 4:3 aspect ratio and black and white. I can see why the latter was used, it adds an eeriness and depth to the movie, but the aspect ratio is a puzzler, you feel you are missing more than you might be gaining.
The main differences come in the story though. Whilst the 2016 version of The Lighthouse was based upon the true story of the Smalls Lighthouse tragedy in Wales, the 2019 version started life as a version of Edgar Allan Poe’s unfinished story The Light-House, which would have been interesting, as that only contained three days of diary entries and a heading for the fourth before Poe passed away.
Writer Max Eggers enlisted his brother to help with the script and Poe was forgotten, replaced with a supernatural/horror approach, with some aspects of the Smalls Lighthouse tragedy thrown in for good measure. This makes some comparison with the 2016 version inevitable, and so let’s tackle that to begin with.
The 2016 The Lighthouse is, as far as one can tell, much closer to the known story of the Smalls Lighthouse tragedy. It, like the 2019 version, has two stellar performances front and centre but, unlike the 2019 version, the 2016 version feels much more about a man’s descent into madness, whereas the 2019 version feels like a bizarre horror film, not a million miles from the feeling you get after watching Midsommar for example.
For me it is Dafoe that absolutely shines in the 2019 version, that’s not to say Pattinson is bad, far from it, he comes into his own towards the end when he’s raging and has more to do. Dafoe is brilliant throughout though, from his ramblings, to him working Pattinson like a dog, it’s a wonderful performance to watch.
Robert directs beautifully, making full use of the darkness afforded him by the black and white film, he even puts the aspect ratio to good use at times too, edging the picture in black so the movie appears to fill the screen.
His shots of the lighthouse itself, the transitions from room to room, reminded me of Wes Anderson’s directing at times, though this could have been because, occasionally, the setting feels like a model, I mean, various shots are obviously filmed on a stage, but it looks intentionally like a model. Either way, it’s superb directing from him.
Then there’s the sound which is made use of wonderfully here. From the deafening silence to the intermittent warning horn, from the constant seagulls screeching to the chugging of the motor turning the light. You are aware of it always and it is very cleverly used.
The Lighthouse isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, not by a long shot, and it is hard to recommend seeing it at the cinema given the aspect ratio chosen. However, it is an utterly absorbing movie, helped enormously by the two performances, the directing, and the soundtrack.