When Robert Eggers appeared on the cinematic scene with The Witch at 2015’s Sundance Film Festival, he exposed untold new ways to tell horror stories. So, what can someone who has already reinvented a genre do to follow up such a work? Eggers decided to use a similar formula—mainly the research of authentic historical documents that went into the screenplay’s creation of horror—to tell a brand-new story. The results are great.
The Lighthouse tells the story of two men, Thomas and Ephraim played by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, tasked with operating the eponymous lighthouse on a remote island. This allows the men to get to know each other, learn to hate each other and, eventually, begin to destroy each other mentally. While there are some outside sources of horror, the majority of the psychological trauma of the film comes from two people being isolated together. Hell is other people, indeed! Dafoe and Pattinson carry the film, of course, with Dafoe’s grizzled man-of-the-world playing quite well off of Pattinson’s young and cocky newbie, hoping to operate the light atop the lighthouse one day.
In fact, the chemistry between Dafoe and Pattinson is undeniable, sometimes appearing as if the film’s genre is actually incorrectly stated, as if these two men are actually involved in a gritty remake of The Odd Couple. In fact, comedy plays a big role in The Lighthouse, perhaps making it more terrifying in the process. Moments of levity, like the two protagonists bickering or not-so-subtle homoerotic overtones or even a particularly funny series of interactions between Patterson and a seagull, frequently bring down the audience’s defences; leaving viewers open to other moments of brutal violence and unspeakable horror.
This film’s biggest strength, however, comes in its aesthetic and technical prowess. The very first shot—4:3 aspect ratio, grainy black-and-white film appearing like early photography, accompanied by banshee-like noises for the first ten dialogue-less minutes—reels the audience in; letting movie goers know exactly what to expect and never quite letting go of them. While the narrative does slow down a bit in the middle, the visuals and the soundtrack do not let up, leading us to the film’s fateful ending.
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam