Oh Hell, It’s Halloween Again?

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson drive themselves (and us) cuckoo in The Lighthouse.

From the shaggy dog file: The Lighthouse, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as a mismatched pair of crusty old salts who undergo some changes when they are sent to the title isolated island location and their imaginations run wild.

The picturesque but tiresome melodrama gets the bright idea to dress up two usually fine character actors as 19th-century Coast-Guard-type officials in full nautical uniform, with beards. They look exactly as if they stepped out of an antique Daguerreotype, and for one or two scenes it’s good clean fun watching them bump into each other in their cramped new post. The tyrannical older one, Thomas Wake (Dafoe), farts a lot and roars out advice to his subordinate: “It’s bad luck to kill a seabird!” The nervous younger one, Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson), has a tendency to hallucinate and constantly talks to himself. He also develops a fondness for a miniature carved wooden mermaid. Picture a two-person stage play in close quarters with colorful archaic language and no real plot, other than the impossibility of two people getting along.

By the time the men’s relationship goes south permanently, director Robert Eggers (The Witch) and co-writer Max Eggers (his brother) have treated us to fistfights, nightmares, a madness montage sequence, a kerosene and honey cocktail, and a bit of business with an axe — passing through Jack London, B. Traven, Val Lewton, Brothers Quay, and Greed territory without ever attaining a comparable level of imagination, characterization, or plot. Not since Antichrist has Dafoe taken such a beating. The effect is not exactly mumblecore, more like seagull-core. Its lone saving grace is Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography in the light chamber sequence, with a “light show” across Ephraim’s face as he cowers in the dark — magical and futuristic, but unfortunately neither “m” nor “f” enough.

The Cannes and Deauville film fests each awarded The Lighthouse a prize, which is as succinct an argument against film festivals as anything we’ve seen. Looking for a miserable way to spend Halloween? Here it is.

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