Hark, now hear the sailors cry/Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly/Into the Mystic.
And when that fog horn blows/I will be coming home
And when the fog horn blows/I want to hear it
I don’t have to fear it…
Van Morrison sang those lyrics in one of the most beautiful ballads ever. We hear a fog horn in this movie, which has the opposite effect. You hear the noise and sounds of a lighthouse operating, with the constant foghorn disorienting you. It’s done to great effect, and one of only a handful of things that make this movie interesting.
Critics went nuts over director Robert Eggers’ horror film The Witch four years ago. It took place in the 17th century and people raved that it used dialogue from things written during that era that Eggers painstakingly researched. And he did the same thing with real logs from a lighthouse keeper in the 1800s, as we head a few hundred years ahead of The Witch, in another movie that pretentious critics are praising and audiences will merely scratch their heads over.
The film at times felt like a classic novel that would’ve been written by Herman Melville or Jack London, with a touch of Edgar Allan Poe (maybe that was Pattinson’s mustache)…as if done by Rod Serling, but with a script that basically sucks.
Like the old black-and-white Twilight Zones, the 35mm high-contrast film stock creates a look that’s interesting. The visuals, sometimes completely dark or creepy shadows or silhouettes when there’s a bit of light, work splendidly. I’m not so sure I dig the aspect ratio of the film that makes it a big square you’re watching on screen. Credit goes to Jarin Blaschke for the cinematography, and using old Baltar lenses from the 1930s.
Oh, so the screenplay. I mentioned it sucks. I’ll try to explain, without spoilers. Uh…two guys land on a remote island to run the lighthouse (great opening shot of the guys on the front of a boat, which has been done many times on screen).
Tom Wake (Willem Dafoe) is the boss and…well, you thought Joan Crawford was tough with the cleaning in Mommie Dearest. The meals he prepares are also awful (although you gotta give the dude credit for snaggin’ lots of lobster).
Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) is the younger, quieter guy who is a drifter that once worked as a lumberjack. He’s got a cool ‘stache, but it has nothing on the facial hair of his boss. And Tom sounds great with his old school, New England accent and corn cob pipe often clutched in his mouth. It’s a coincidence that Dafoe got an Oscar nomination last year for playing van Gogh, and in this, he looks like van Gogh’s “The Postman.” He’ll probably also score another Oscar nomination for this role as well.
Tom doesn’t let Winslow near the light, which is what he runs at night. Sometimes he appears to be doing that in the nude. Winslow has to do all the dirty chores during the day (which include disgusting latrine duties).
Winslow has a ceramic mermaid he keeps under his mattress, and that’s used for….well…you can use your imagination. And, we’re not sure how his imagination has created the image of a mermaid being washed up onto the rocks, stuck in the lobster traps. Good news for him is, she has a huge vagina near her stomach, and…well…you can use your imagination on what happens next [I believe my wife said the movie was offensive at this point; or it could’ve been when someone beats a seagull against the rocks unmercifully].
After Tom badgers Winslow for weeks for not drinking with him, he finally does. And, you can guess where that goes (of course, there’s some barfing; it’s a requirement in movies these days).
Most critics have loved this film, and the ones like me that disliked it, all say the same thing — the two performances were great.
These are two committed actors, and even seeing them in the cabin dancing around in a drunken stupor, or belting out sea shanties, is only moderately interesting. It’s cool that these two actors always do different types of films, but they need to accept better screenplays (their last two movies — At Eternity’s Gate and High Life — were both dreadful).
Who cares that Eggers painstakingly recreated what a lighthouse from that time would look and sound like. Just as I didn’t care that Tarantino spent so much time to make Sunset Boulevard look like it was the ‘60s in his last movie…simply for one Brad Pitt drive down the street. You still need a good screenplay not just cool visuals.
At the end of the movie, all I took away from the characters is that Tom farts an awful lot.
1 ½ stars out of 5. Don’t buy into the critics hype.