Following his critically acclaimed debut feature The Witch (2015), Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse is a haunting masterpiece. The film attracts you by its chillingly mesmerising sound design and stunning visuals, but also by the career defining performances from Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe. Together, they push the story’s intensity and horror to its absolute limit.
Set in the 1890s, The Lighthouse follows Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), a newly recruited apprentice to Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), a mad lighthouse veteran. The pair is tasked with four weeks’ work on a remote New England island. As the film progresses, Winslow slowly submits to the hypnotic madness of the island as well as Wake’s strange behaviour…
The first thing about The Lighthouse that really stands out is how extremely atmospheric it is. By presenting the story in black and white and in a restrained 1.19:1 aspect ratio, Eggers displays the grittiness of the environment that our characters inhabit; as well as creating a claustrophobic feeling that traps the audience on the island. The sound design is impressive and helps enhance the nightmare-fuelled and haunting experience. From the lighthouse’s blasting siren to the seagull’s eerie squawks, the film drills those sounds into your mind and they will stick with you for weeks.
Saying that Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are both phenomenal in the film is truly an understatement. From Pattinson’s portrayal of Winslow’s growing annoyance toward the bizarre events, to the point at which he starts to act out of his personality, and finally to his descent into madness, his performance is impressive. Willem Dafoe portrays his strange, intense and slightly insane lighthouse keeper to its perfection. The many tremendous monologues from Dafoe are expressed with such depth and emphasis, really putting us into Winslow’s perspective and terrifying us at the thought of what Thomas could do to him. The intensity they bring to their characters is brilliant.
Just like Eggers’ previous film The Witch, The Lighthouse slowly intensifies its creepiness throughout the film. One of the ways it does this is by having characters suddenly act dramatically around each other. On multiple occasions in the film, the characters are engaged in normal conversation when it turns to either an authoritative warning from Wake to a full confrontation between them. Surprisingly, the next thing we’ll see is the characters having a cheery dance or them getting drunk with each other. The unpredictability of the film really makes the audience so uncomfortable to a point where you don’t know whether to laugh or be completely shocked and terrified.
Another way that Eggers manages to create the uncomfortable tension in the film is by cutting to Winslow’s surreal dream sequences many times throughout the film. Eggers keeps the audience guessing as to what is real or what are just Winslow’s delusions. By doing this, the film leads the audience into this disturbingly hypnotic trip without losing any interest.
The Lighthouse delivers a truly unique horror experience. The captivating performances from Pattinson and Dafoe never fail to fascinate and amaze. With such strong entries in the pantheon of horror in recent years, this film firmly secures itself as one of the best in recent memory. Robert Eggers demonstrates himself as an exciting horror director to pay attention to for years to come.