Robert Eggers’s second feature film, The Lighthouse, proves that he’s a director to keep an eye on. Robert Pattinson plays Ephraim Winslow, a man who travels to a remote island to work as the assistant of an aged, eccentric lighthouse keeper (Willem Dafoe). The two men spend several tense weeks alone, keeping the lighthouse until a disastrous storm strikes. The Lighthouse is packed with intense acting, surreal imagery, and having been shot in 1.19:1 aspect ratio, it is a claustrophobic descent into madness.
The film is successful in many regards, but the acting stands out in particular. Pattinson and Dafoe both deliver Oscar-worthy performances. Both characters are introduced while staring into the camera, laying the foundation for the intensity that pervades the film. Pattinson maintains an air of disdain, even in moments of respite, creating an unshaking feeling that Winslow is unhinged. Dafoe goads him, rambling on and on in an almost unintelligible New England pirate brogue. Both men also deliver grueling physical performances (Pattinson especially spends much of the movie performing various exhausting tasks around the lighthouse) and both play off of each other’s manic energy.
Furthermore, not enough can be said about The Lighthouse’s cinematography. Jarin Blaschke, who also worked with Eggers on The Witch, has found just the right visual tone for this claustrophobic two-hander. His shots are excellent — he juxtaposes close-ups of Pattinson and Dafoe in cramped spaces with larger, looming shots of the lighthouse. Shot in black-and-white on 35mm film, Blaschke’s moody charcoals, ash grays, and seashell whites allow shifts between concrete and abstract shots feel all the more like a dizzying fever-dream. The sound design for the film also works exceptionally well, setting the tone of the film with the ominous sounds of a foghorn and the mocking, almost laughter-like sound of seagulls. All of these elements come together to blur the lines between reality and hallucination.
While from a technical perspective The Lighthouse is stunning, it may be easy to disregard it at first for its confusing narrative. However, the film’s unapologetic embrace of the bizarre is what ultimately makes it compelling. Eggers clearly takes inspiration from classics such as Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, resulting in a film that is just as concerned with using the medium as a way of creating a work of art, as it is with telling a story. For this reason, it’s hard to pinpoint any serious problems with the film. It works wonderfully as both an art film and a horror film — creating unsettling scenes with experimental imagery. The Lighthouse is guaranteed to get Oscar buzz and for good reason, it is a must see. Coming off of the success of both The Witch and The Lighthouse, it’ll be exciting to see what Robert Eggers does next.
Valerie Lopez is a film intern who loves hearing herself talk about movies almost as much as watching them.