Cliff’s review published on Letterboxd:
Robert Eggers follows up his remarkable The VVitch with another deep dive into historical America, this time the 19th century, the location a lighthouse on a rock in the ocean. Salty old lighthouse keeper Tom Wake (Willem Defoe) has a new dogsbody, Tommy "Winslow" Howard (Robert Pattinson), who's due to stay helping out for four weeks, but bad weather results in him having to remain on the rock for significantly longer. Tommy's predecessor was driven mad by the isolated conditions and, err, died (it's not revealed how), and it seems inevitable that a similar madness will strike Tommy before long.
And it's that very inevitability which is the film's biggest flaw. Quite soon, Tommy's hallucinating a sexy mermaid, slimy tentacles and the previous assistant's corpse, and they're right putting him off his wanks. Because, let's face it, what else was going to happen? Once you've seen the mermaid and the tentacles, there are none of the surprises that make The VVitch such a great movie, although admittedly the final shot is startling.
Although he's fastidiously sober at first, as per the government's regulations, once the four week mark hits, Tommy starts joining Tom in drinking lots and lots of booze to help the stormy evenings pass, and the scenes of drunkenness give Defoe a chance to really go for it as a performer. I also like the way his dialogue is so full of archaic language that the script challenges you to translate as you go along, and the Cornish accent he adopts turns him into a proper Cap'n Birdseye character, albeit more flatulent, temperamental and pissed-up. I'm not sure what Pattinson's up to with his accent though; it veers all over the place, from Brooklyn Noo Yawk to Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins, though perhaps that's deliberate because his character is a liar.
I can't help feel that the technical abnormalities - it's in black & white and uses an almost square aspect ratio - were chosen to make up for the film's narrative deficiencies; to make it look like some otherworldly art piece rather than the predictable descent into insanity that it is. Mark Korven's foghorn-inspired score deserves a mention, but the film as a whole is a very mixed lobster pot.