Plot: Two lighthouse keepers try to maintain their sanity whilst living on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.
Director: Robert Eggers
Released: January 2020
From the first shot of the opening sequence you know you’re about to watch something unique, transporting you back to the early days of cinema, when directors were still playing around with how a movie should work. It takes several minutes of waves, seagulls and horns before any word is spoken. With the use of black & white and a square aspect ratio giving the film a dated but also dreamlike and distinct vintage feel.
It’s easy to see that writer-director Robert Eggers’ has a unique vision for his films, with his last feature film The Witch being equally out there in terms of look and feel. Clearly he isn’t afraid to experiment with film conventions to produce a film that challenges the audience, with the use of period realistic vocabulary once again making an appearance, this time found using actual journals from lighthouse keepers.
The plot is relatively straight forward and the setting is quite simplistic, but this doesn’t mean The Lighthouse isn’t interesting, with both plot and setting combining to create one of the more interesting looks into what happens to two men when detached from civilisation for a prolonged period of time.
From the very beginning, the film has a claustrophobic and almost insufferable feeling, no matter if the characters are inside one of the tiny lighthouse rooms, living quarters or outside on the desolate and unwelcoming and remote island. The ever present sound of crashing waves and seagulls also helps to create a feeling of unease and foreboding that seems inescapable.
Visually, the film looks great and completely different to other films that have been come out recently in either black & white or had black & white versions released such as Mad Max: Fury Road and Logan, both the cinematography and the black-and-white aesthetic remind me of the work of Ingmar Bergman and wouldn’t surprise me if Eggers took inspiration from Bergaman’s work, namely a personal favourite of mine The Seventh Seal, which also used shots of the oceanic to great effect and create a haunting tone.
Given that film centres around two actors for the entire plot, well three if you count the seagull, it’s only right I touch on the excellent work both Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson did to keep the audience in suspense throughout. It really quite fascinating to see each of them to experience outbursts of both frustration and loneliness, trapped on this godless island. It’s hard to remember a bad performance Defoe has put in over the years and once again he give it his all as the experienced lighthouse keeper who speaks like Captain Ahab, but it’s Pattinson who once again proves the doubters wrong and more than holds his own as the former lumberjack turned apprentice lighthouse keeper, filled with suppressed anger and secrets hiding just below the surface.
In conclusion, with it’s interesting look and authentic language this film is most assuredly not for everyone, but for those of you who enjoy a director doing something different to elevate a simple plot to a higher level, The Lighthouse is well worth checking out, especially if you also enjoy a good dose of psychological horror such as myself.