The second feature film of director Robert Eggers, The Lighthouse isn’t the same sort of horror movie that one would expect following The Witch but it’s also every bit as terrifying for different reasons. Robert Eggers is quite a special talent for the horror genre to see today, not because he’s made horror films outside of the recognizable system but because of the measures he takes with making sure that you’re believing yourself to be in a different world entirely when watching his films. With his second feature film, Robert Eggers doesn’t simply make a perfect tribute to the classic era of horror films but it’s also every bit as beautiful too. Far more than just simply the talents of Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson going up against one another, The Lighthouse is a chilling watch from start to finish – prepared to get under your skin and creep right out.
Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe respectively star as Epharim Winslow and Thomas Wake, two men in charge of a lighthouse in New England. Set within the 19th century, The Lighthouse makes clear its own influence from the literature of the same era, but Eggers’s own ability to transport you all the way back in time can only go far enough before you find yourself occupying that very same space that his characters do. The Lighthouse is never afraid to hold back even on the crude nature of its own humour, but knowing what tricks does Robert Eggers have up his own sleeve, the very experience of watching The Lighthouse only becomes more hallucinatory, claustrophobic, and outright uncomfortable – as the two men slowly begin losing their sanity, spending more time on the island with nothing else but each other.
Shot on black-and-white 35mm film and with an aspect ratio of 1.19:1, The Lighthouse presents itself as an immersive experience that only further traps you into that mindset that overcomes the two lighthouse keepers, as they spend more time on this island believing themselves to be alone. As Robert Eggers had already shown audiences with The Witch, The Lighthouse is one of the most beautifully designed horror films of the decade – one that transports you to another period of time with such ease, not only through the very look of the film but also in terms of how he captures the mannerisms of what people of said era were like. At the film’s core, this is also a tale of how these two men have become friends despite being the only ones on the island for the whole time, but as we learn more about themselves that’s where we only become more frightened of what’s to come of them – based on how they react towards their own surroundings. But even being surrounded by an era you recognize as not being your own, from the sets, locations, and even the music, that’s how it only finds its most clever means of getting under your skin.
To call The Lighthouse one of the year’s most beautiful films would be an understatement, when as a matter of fact the film is constructed out of love for the films that have inspired it – going from the films of the silent era, in particular the German Expressionist movement. It’s clear that this is a film that was made out of love for that era of filmmaking, but even aesthetically there’s so much more to find out of a film like The Lighthouse that would make for an overall terrifying experience. Robert Eggers has created an experience that only ever grows to become even more hallucinatory on all corners, and as these delusions begin to manifest into greater threats towards one’s own sanity. Everything about the way in which Robert Eggers constructs a scene almost feels so alienating but you can’t help but shake off that feeling it only pushes you even closer to the characters themselves, despite everything that they say almost sounding like jargon. As the hallucinations only take on more different forms, Eggers racks up the paranoia to the max, but even the most beautiful of imagery can become nightmarish in a matter of seconds.
Yet there’s a whole lot more that I still admire about The Lighthouse is just knowing that even though the cast consists of nothing but Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, and is set only in one spot, the way in which Robert Eggers just captures the two of them simply trying to live their lives without any sense of company. If anything else best sums up what it is that makes their performances every bit as enjoyable, Robert Eggers does not ever place any sort of filter over the pairing of them. It becomes hard enough to tell that the two of them are even scripted anymore, because of how well the pairing works with one another. The chemistry seems so natural, their performances become a part of the atmosphere which they inhabit, there’s nothing more that one could ask for out of them. As expected as always, Willem Dafoe is a sight to behold, but Robert Pattinson carries a bigger load on his shoulders here. He shows no trouble in doing so, further showcasing what it is that makes him one of the best working actors.
When watching The Lighthouse, you’ll only be left wondering what more could be symbolized by the actual lighthouse in itself. But there’s something special to how Robert Eggers presents this film to his audience and it’s extraordinary to see what he manages to cook up on the spot here. There comes a certain point where it becomes harder to read the exact meanings of what Robert Eggers’s characters are saying, but the more he pushes you away the more he leaves you wanting to learn. Although it unfolds in a more straightforward manner than The Witch had done so, there’s a lot to admire about what more can Robert Eggers work around behind the camera. It may prove itself divisive in that same sense that The Witch had done so, but all the most baffling aspects of The Lighthouse only make me further fall in love with it. Paranoid, minimal, claustrophobic, gorgeous, darkly humorous, The Lighthouse only finds more ways to crawl under your skin the more it goes on.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via A24.
Directed by Robert Eggers
Screenplay by Robert Eggers, Max Eggers
Produced by Rodrigo Teixeira, Jay Van Hoy, Robert Eggers, Lourenço Sant’ Anna, Youree Henley
Starring Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe
Release Date: October 18, 2019
Running Time: 110 minutes