The Lighthouse First Reviews: An "Explosively Scary" Visual Treat From the Director of The Witch

The first reviews out of Cannes say Robert Eggers' latest comes packed with tension, beauty, and dynamite performances from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe.

by | May 19, 2019 | Comments

The Lighthouse
(Photo by @ A24)

While the rest of the world debates the casting of Robert Pattinson as Batman, the actor appears to have wowed audiences at the Cannes Film Festival with what might be his best performance yet. The Lighthouse, the sophomore effort from The Witch writer/director Robert Eggers, screened early Sunday morning; the character-focused 19th century ghost story, which also stars the great Willem Dafoe, earned an extended standing ovation. It’s another old-timey piece of Gothic cinema from Eggers, and the first reviews hint that this psychological drama might be even better than Eggers’ feature debut, if not as widely appealing to horror fans.

Here’s what critics are saying about The Lighthouse:

How would you describe The Lighthouse?

“The most immersive film experience of the year… a throwback black-and-white fever dream, shot in boxy 1.33.1 and filled with arcane lingo.” – Ben Croll, The Wrap

The Lighthouse, made with extraordinary skill, is a movie you can’t pigeonhole, and that’s part of its appeal.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“It’s the best movie about bad roommates ever made.” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire

So Eggers’ debut feature, The Witch, wasn’t a fluke??

“Robert Eggers confirms his instant reputation as a master of the New England Gothic with this claustrophobic second feature.” – David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

“[This] proves that Robert Eggers possesses something more than impeccable genre skill. He has the ability to lock you into the fever of what’s happening on screen.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“This guy knows what he’s doing.” – Ben Croll, The Wrap

Robert Eggers
(Photo by James Atoa/Everett Collection)

How is Robert Pattinson in the film?

“Pattinson, in particular, just gets better and better.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“Pattinson anchors things with a sturdy physical performance that will no doubt calm those concerned about a certain reported upcoming role.” – Ben Croll, The Wrap

“When he spits out a speech about how sick he is of listening to the old man, it’s the most ferocious acting of Pattinson’s career.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“It’s the sort of showboating the actor tends to avoid, but this histrionic material gives him the ideal excuse to lash out, and with winning results.” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire

And how is Willem Dafoe?

“Both actors are sensational (and they work together like one), but in terms of sheer showboating power it’s Dafoe’s movie.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“Dafoe plays brilliantly with our doubts about his character, shifting from demonic authoritarian to harmless yarn-spinning old salt in the time it takes to glug a shot of rum.” – Lee Marshall, Screen International

“Even Sir Donald Wolfit or Robert Newton could not have got more out of the role of Tom than Willem Dafoe does.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe
(Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Just how far does The Lighthouse take their chemistry?

“At times it seems unclear if they’re going to fight or f–k.” – David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

“The script choreographs an intense, hothouse relationship that begins in master and servant mode but shifts towards an uneasy homoerotic dance (literally at one point).” – Lee Marshall, Screen International

“The movie is not without its homoerotic undertones, but it’s more precisely keyed into what happens when active minds feed off a shared sense of alienation.” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire

Is the movie going to make us go crazy, too?

“There’s real artistry in keeping an audience as unsure as we remain: someone is definitely going mad here, but who? Is it us?” – Jessica Kiang, The Playlist

“Eggers effectively gaslights the audience scene after scene…when Eggers starts pulling the rug, we fall down with it and start questioning our own minds.” – Ben Croll, The Wrap

Does the movie have its own Black Phillip?

“What the goat named Black Phillip was to The Witch, a particularly cantankerous seagull is to this film.” – David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

“The bird is a spiritual successor to the demonic goat Black Phillip in The Witch, but more than that, a keen gateway to the movie’s ecological undertones.” – Eric Kohn, IndieWire

The Witch - Goat
(Photo by @ A24)

But is The Lighthouse scary?

“It is explosively scary and captivatingly beautiful in cinematographer Jarin Blaschke’s fierce monochrome, like a daguerreotype of fear.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“The movie delivers its share of shudders, along with fabulous arias of anger, wrath and disgust from both actors as the power dynamic bounces back and forth.” – David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

“Supernatural or not, the real demon that haunts The Lighthouse is the ghost of male loneliness.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

It’s shot in old-school black-and-white: How does it look?

“Shot in an expressionist black and white that harks back to cinema’s earliest years.” – Lee Marshall, Screen International

“This is a sublime film visually: Eggers and Blaschke imagine a glorious variety of images from this stark and unforgiving.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“Blaschke’s 35mm coal-and-ash lensing grows more expressionistic in shade, the scenes grow more hallucinatory and the film’s rhythm and editing becomes faster and looser, to get us better into the headspace of two men who are drunk out of their minds.” – Ben Croll, The Wrap

And it’s kinda funny, too?

“It’s also amusing. The humor can be slapstick, but it lives most naturally in the ornamented 19th-century dialogue, which is as lovingly written as the revived Plymouth-puritan English of The Witch.” – Jessica Kiang, The Playlist

“Both actors bring…bracing shots of humor, notably in a night of drunken revelry in which they jig to sea shanties and lumberjack ditties before slumping into a messy slow dance like exhausted lovers.” – David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

Could it be an instant classic?

The Lighthouse feels ancient, like the cinematic equivalent of a stone carving…And yet…it’s shimmeringly contemporary, and has real long-game sustain.” – Jessica Kiang, The Playlist

The Lighthouse opens in theaters later in the year.


The Lighthouse (2019)

Adjusted Score: 106.662%
Critics Consensus: A gripping story brilliantly filmed and led by a pair of powerhouse performances, The Lighthouse further establishes Robert Eggers as a filmmaker of exceptional talent.
Synopsis: From Robert Eggers, the visionary filmmaker behind modern horror masterpiece The Witch, comes this hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two... [More]
Directed By: Robert Eggers

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