Two lighthouse keepers try to maintain their sanity whilst living on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.

Cast:  Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, Valeriia Karamän, Logan Hawkes

Directors: Robert Eggers
Writers: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers

I’ve been having mixed feelings about writing this review. It’s been a few days since I watched The Lighthouse and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. From a pure film making perspective, it is really something special but I just didn’t have a good time, which is kind of the point.

The Lighthouse sees Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) sail out to an isolated island to take care of a lighthouse. Winslow is a new wickie on a four week contract so Wake makes him do all the hard work while he looks after the lighthouse’s light at night, something he seems to have a strange obsession with. After Winslow isn’t picked up after four weeks due to a storm, the pair become more adversarial and struggle to maintain their sanity.

The story of The Lighthouse is very simple and seems like it is leading to something interesting but it never really pays off. The film is very much about the pairs’ descent into madness and it is slow and uncomfortable to watch. I felt uneasy and tense for large swaths of the film and it definitely isn’t going to be for everyone, as evidenced by the woman a few seats down from me who checked her phone several times before walking out of my screening. Even I checked my watch once or twice. But it is clear that this is what Robert Eggers is trying to do, so I guess he succeeds but I got no joy out of it.

The film relies on the performances of the two leads as there are barely any other characters in the film, and very few of those others have any lines to deliver. Willem Dafoe is great here as the grizzled Wake who may have already gone crazy and excretes more bodily fluids that I was anticipating. Robert Pattinson is every bit Dafoe’s equal as Winslow who has a few skeletons in his closet. They both use quite thick accents that I found difficult to understand at certain points, especially with other sounds or music at the same time, but that might just be an issue for me.

The film is shot in black-and-white with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, a choice that results in a narrow image and creates a sense of claustrophobia at times with the reduced scope compared to what we are used to. I can’t imagine this film working in colour and widescreen, those elements just add to the isolation of the characters. Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke is rightly getting high praise as he does a superb job here with some really great visuals and some really nice tracking shots through and up the lighthouse.

Mark Korven’s score is another great element that adds to the tone of the film and maintains that uneasy feeling. Though it appears to be a bit repetitive, with similar parts repeated through the film, it helps to create a feeling that something could go wrong at anytime, keeping the tension up at all times.

The Lighthouse is a film that I appreciate seeing, especially in a theatre, but I have absolutely no interest in revisiting again. While all the elements in it are fantastic, the story and tone make this film hard to sit through once, let alone multiple times. It is sure to be loved by some and hated by others but it is something worth checking out if you like films that challenge you.


Ashley Hobley attended an advance screening of The Lighthouse thanks to Universal Pictures and Palace Cinemas.