I'm struggling with The Lighthouse. The critical consensus is mostly positive (83 score on Metacritic from 44 reviews, 41 positive, 1 mixed, 2 negative). In one of those two negative reviews, a highly entertaining MickLaSalle writes:
Directed and co-written by Robert Eggers, “The Lighthouse” was made as it was intended. To emphasize the claustrophobia, its aspect ratio is close to that of a square. It’s shot in a glossy black and white, which gives it a detached quality, allows for beautiful uses of moonlight and shadow, and makes the characters played by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson seem mythic, archetypal. It places two men in a difficult environment and pits them in a psychological duel.
Doesn't sound so bad, does it? And I have often spoken of movies that weren't made for me, that are "as intended", that succeed on their own attempts, but which I don't connect with. The Lighthouse is one of those, and over the years, I have felt more kindly to such movies, even when I don't like them.
Somehow, though, The Lighthouse inspired real hatred from me. I can't just tip my cap to Robert Eggers and move on, because watching The Lighthouse was a real chore. As I watched, I couldn't shake the notion that what Eggers intended was to piss off the audience, and not in any useful way. Clearly, critics felt otherwise, so YMMV. But damn, this movie sucked.
Returning to LaSalle: "Eggers fails to give us the one thing that might have sustained an audience’s interest over the course of 109 excruciating minutes: a compelling story. He gives us nothing even close to one." This isn't a case of Eggers rejecting narrative in favor of something else. It's Eggers rubbing our faces in the aforementioned psychological duel, without making us care about the participants.
One last visit with LaSalle:
Imagine you having dinner with a smelly, gassy loudmouth with a fake-sounding Irish accent. That’s exactly how fun it is to watch someone else have dinner with a smelly, gassy loudmouth with a fake-sounding Irish accent. And that’s just one dinner. But wait, there’s more. There are countless dinner scenes.
Do Dafoe and Pattinson give good performances? I suppose so, but who gives a shit? The Lighthouse features interesting stylistic decisions in the service of nothing.