Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe expertly portray madness and dread in “The Lighthouse”, the highly anticipated sophomore film from Robert Eggers.
“I cannot think of the deep sea without shuddering at the nameless things that may at this very moment be crawling and floundering on its slimy bed…” -HP Lovecraft, “Dagon”
The Lighthouse (2019) is a film starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, directed by Robert Eggers, and written by Robert and Max Eggers. The Lighthouse is not really a horror movie, unlike Eggers’ previous feature, The Witch (2015). Instead, it’s an intense, thrilling, and thought-provoking piece of cosmic terror that kept my eyes glued to the screen.
It’s not without its unnerving moments. But if you’re looking for spooks and scares, this is not the movie to watch. If, however, you’re interested in a mind-bending, sometimes absurdist journey that makes you think, wonder, and question everything you’re seeing, The Lighthouse is the film for you.
Despite not being the typical horror flick, I knew that I’d need to review it. The reason?
What I watched in that dark, quiet theater was something few films, cosmic horror or otherwise, even dare to tap into: utter madness.
The film is set on a cold, wet island somewhere off the coast of New England. Pattinson and Dafoe are wickies, lighthouse keepers who maintain the lights over long, isolated stints of time. They’ve arrived to relieve the previous shift and to serve out their four-week service together.
The film maintains its focus on the two, who speak in old sailor parlance with 1800’s accents and slang. Dafoe plays Thomas, a mysterious veteran wicky whose love for the sea is matched with superstitious fear of the supernatural. Pattinson, on the other hand, plays Ephraim, a quiet, odd first-timer who’s been hired to replace Dafoe’s old companion. Together, they make a dream team, playing off one another so well that I was engrossed in their performances, despite sometimes not quite understanding what they were saying.
Their dynamic was stellar in every way.
When they laughed, I felt it. When they cried, I felt it. When the madness began to creep in, I felt it. And when paranoia seized hold? I definitely felt it. Their convincing performances were what pulled me in, but the events to follow were what ultimately struck a chord.
The Lighthouse’s story is difficult to interpret, nearly dreamlike but yet strangely simple. The two find themselves tasked with maintaining the lighthouse to keep it running under any circumstance. Alone, isolated, and sometimes afraid for their lives, their minds begin to fracture.
Or do they?
To be honest, there’s no way to be sure, as paranoia and madness yield delusions and lies.
Even the simplest things become tricky to keep track of and believe as the movie presses forward. Everything starts blending together.
The best line in the film to exemplify this comes toward the film’s third act. I’m paraphrasing, but the line goes something like, “How long’ve we been on this rock together? Five weeks? Two days? Help me to recollect.”
Every bit of information we, the audience, receive comes from the characters’ perspectives. What happens, then, when our characters’ minds begin to play tricks on them? Or when, paranoid and insane, they lie about every aspect of who they are? Even the dialogue twists at your mind is designed to confuse. Literally every facet of this movie is meant to be questioned, and it’s fantastic.
Technically, the film is a marvel.
Shot in 1.19:1, the aspect ratio of the late 20s and early 30s, on 35mm white film stock and in black and white, The Lighthouse’s visuals are striking and stark. Every shot is reminiscent of Kubrick, Villeneuve and the like, where every frame is conceived like a painting. Rolling waves, ships on the horizon, gulls in the air, each second of the film stimulates the senses.
The music and audio, like the rest of the film, blend and intertwine, resulting in a strange mixture of haunting strings, deep drones, and the moans from the station’s foghorn. This unnerving, ethereal score is courtesy of Mark Korven, who also composed the award-winning score to The Witch.
The entire sound team, from Foley artists to ADR mixers deserve high praise, but sound effect designers Mariusz Glabinski and Damian Volpe truly brought their A-game. The choral pieces send shivers down your spine, as any real sound is replaced by inhuman screeching. It’s all truly haunting.
The Lighthouse is a masterclass in madness.
It’s a tale of sexual promiscuity, paranoia, cabin fever and frightening interpersonal conflict like I’ve never seen before. I wish this review could be longer. I could, quite literally, talk about this film for hours, begin dissecting every frame with maddened fervor. But I won’t.
Instead, I want you to watch it for yourselves, untainted by my, or anyone’s, thoughts and interpretations. It’s a visceral, raw, and twisted film experience that’s different for everyone, and one I highly recommend you see.
I insist cosmic horror fans seek it out at their nearest theater right away. Released in mid-October, it’s my speculation that The Lighthouse is due to leave the big screen soon.
It deserves to be seen in a theater, and you’d be robbing yourself of the sheer intensity of the film by waiting until you can watch at home.
There’s something about sitting in a dark theater with all these images and sounds demanding your attention. Believe me when I say it is likely the best way to experience it. If you can’t attend a larger screen viewing, I encourage you to rent it as soon as it comes out at the end of the year. If you’re as big a fan of cosmic horror as I am, there’s a lot to enjoy.
It may be a different kind of experience than you may be used to, but The Lighthouse has a lot to offer any horror fan.
Though a slow burn with strange dialogue, it’s a visual and auditory masterpiece with heart, a few laughs, and some of the most disturbing, uncomfortable scenes I’ve seen all year. In fact, I haven’t managed to get a lot of the scenes out of my head.
And if madness, potential supernatural events, and the utter dread of existence aren’t ‘Lovecraftian’ enough for you, don’t worry, there are tentacles.