The Lighthouse is the latest film from Robert Eggers, director of the truly superb The Witch. Two lighthouse keepers in New England (Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe) start out rather hostile toward each other, but eventually start to become friends. However, both men seem to be harboring dark secrets, and the more stir crazy they get, the more curious they grow about each other’s pasts.
2016s The Witch was one of my favorite movies that year. It was dark, atmospheric, and ultimately, quite disturbing. The Lighthouse is of a similar nature, and equally brilliant. It’s very obvious that Eggers adores Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, as his latest film takes many tonal and thematic cues from it. One of the most interesting directorial choices that Eggers made was to have the film presented not only in black and white, but also in a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, rather than playing in standard widescreen. This added to the feeling of claustrophobia. The titular lighthouse is rather cramped, obviously, and a large part of the plot is driven by its characters’ discomfort of their prolonged confinement. It had an almost voyeuristic quality, and that just made it that much more disturbing. Robert Eggers is clearly making a name for himself as one of the great recently-emerging horror auteurs, along with the likes of Ari Aster and Peter Strickland.
This is film largely rests on the shoulders of its two stars, Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, both of whom are outstanding. Pattinson, Dafoe, and Eggers all publicly discussed how grueling the filming process was, with Pattinson even resorting to milder forms of self-abuse to get into character. While said technique is dangerous and unnecessary, in my opinion, it clearly paid off. Robert Pattinson truly does give a tour de force performance in this movie. His slowly crumbling sanity is mesmerizing. He made a movie a couple years ago called Good Time that I highly recommend, and this is his best acting since that movie. Willem Dafoe is one of my favorite actors of all time, and he and Eggers were this movie’s biggest selling points to me. He gives a terrific, and typically unhinged, performance in this film that further cements him as the master he is. Eggers was also notoriously particular on set (yet another indication of Kubrick’s influence). He was very specific in what he wanted for their voices, including very thick, specific accents, even down to the speed at which they spoke. While I’m sure it wasn’t easy for the two gentlemen, I admire, and sympathize with, directorial specificities like that, and their effort was clearly put on display.
This is not your traditional horror film. The horror comes from a sense of never quite knowing hallucination from reality. In that sense, it’s almost Lovecraftian. The crumbling sanity of our two leads (mostly Robert Pattinson, being the lens through which we see the story) creates a sense of permanent unease and disorientation. This makes the film truly unpredictable. This is yet another cue taken from The Shining; when the characters are constantly questioning their own sanity, the audience is constantly on edge. This will likely turn some viewers away, as the film features a lot of ambiguity. Personally, I found this to be the best choice for a movie like this. It adds to the cognitive dissonance of the picture, and the creative team knows exactly how to convey that tone.
Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse is a creepy, bizarre, and truly enthralling picture. Pattinson and Dafoe are perfectly demented as the two unstable lighthouse keepers, and the constantly dissonant mood keeps the audience perpetually on their toes.