Robert Eggers is becoming one of the most versatile filmmakers in the horror genre. His debut, The Witch, premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival (with a nationwide release the following year) with critical acclaim. Its subtle nature didn’t win everyone over, the Old English dialogue, the creepy atmosphere and music, and its portrayal of a family’s grief during the time before the Salem Witch Trials was wonderfully brought on by Eggers’ writing and directing (not to mention being a breakthrough role for Anya Taylor-Joy). This time, the New Hampshire native shifts the time forward for his second feature, The Lighthouse.
Set in Maine in the late 1800s, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) arrives on a tiny island to serve as a “wickie” (or, lighthouse keeper) with the veteran Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). Hoping for a fresh start, Winslow spends an entire month trying to get used to Wake barking orders at him. As a storm approaches, they begin to get on each other’s nerves.
Eggers did a lot of research for this movie–from the location to the period accuracy. The dialogue (in which the characters sound like pirates) is influenced by the works of Sarah Orne Jewett. From visiting and studying the lighthouses, the production designers had to build a 70-foot lighthouse. Although filmed in Nova Scotia, he and co-writer (and brother) Max Eggers both capture the beauty and spirit of Maine to a T.
Shot in gorgeous black-and-white, The Lighthouse is a darkly comedic, trippy, and batshit crazy film relying on psychological terror, and a slight improvement over The Witch. Jarin Blaschke’s cinematography (shot on 35mm film with a 1:19.1 aspect ratio) and Mark Korven’s score are enough to give the film a sense of claustrophobia. Dafoe and Pattinson are so good working of each other as two men who hold secrets that will shock audiences and would require repeated viewings. Once the storm hits, they both descent into madness. The terrifying imagery is enough to keep you up at night. An instant horror classic!