Following the critical success of The Witch (2015), Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse has been one of the most talked-about horror films of the year since it’s premiere in May, at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. The Lighthouse has been my most anticipated horror film of 2019 since its announcement, when I learned it was going to be shot on black-and-white film with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio and that it was going to star two extremely talented actors like Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson.
The Lighthouse – plot and expectations
Having very high expectations for this film, I was genuinely afraid I wouldn’t have loved it as much as I hoped. Luckily, my concerns were superfluous. In fact, I loved The Lighthouse even more than I anticipated.
Set in the late 19th century, this film follows Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) a young man sent on a boat to serve a contract job as a wickie for four weeks on an isolated island off the coast of New England, under the supervision of an irritable elderly man named Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). Throughout the 109-minute-long runtime, we get to see their relationship develop as well as their simultaneous descent into madness, which progressively leads to an unforgivable climax.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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Everything comes together in The Lighthouse
The emotions and impact I experienced watching The Lighthouse – twice, now – are some of the most powerful I had gone through watching any horror film. In fact, it’s quite hard for me to review a movie I didn’t have any issue with. To me, everything in The Lighthouse feels perfect and thoroughly pondered on for a long time: aside from Martyrs (2008), this is the only film in the 2000s that had me nodding along from beginning to end, as though every single scene and every decision made in this picture was the best possible.
The main reason why I think The Lighthouse is a perfect horror movie – and a perfect film in general – is that everything comes together seamlessly: script, presentation, acting, characters, emotions… it’s all there to provide an unforgettable and unprecedented viewing experience.
Writing and directing
Just like The Witch, The Lighthouse is based on a script that’s been refined and thoroughly worked on for years: together with his brother Max, Robert Eggers studied many diaries of lighthouse keepers from the late 19th and early 20th century to craft dialogue and situations that could resemble real-life events as much as possible. Alongside the care put into the authenticity of the script, there’s the clever reincorporation of scenes and elements that, by the end of the movie, provide it with a circular structure that makes every single occurrence in the film have relevance.
The masterful screenwriting is paired, here, with the outstanding and absolutely unique visual style of The Lighthouse: the narrow and vintage aspect ratio, combined with the gritty, almost 30s-like black and white, gives the film a surreal tone that turns one’s viewing experience into a real nightmare, in the best way possible. These structural choices are backed up by wonderful set-design, amazing camera-work (filled with intrusive and eerie close-ups) and violent editing that truly make you feel like you’re dreaming of something deeply disturbing and inexplicable.
Beyond genres with Pattinson and Defoe
The combination of genius screenwriting and masterful presentation is evident in the tone of a movie, which surpasses every labelling attempt to craft a picture that’s truly genre-less and that balances comedic elements and truly disturbing moments. In fact, one of the strengths of The Lighthouse is its ability to provide humour in dour scenes and uncomfortable feelings in silly occasions.
This film is a daunting task onto itself, as matching these tones and vibes is something only a handful of pictures in the history of cinema had been able to do successfully. Credit needs to be given to the actors: Willem Defoe gives the best performance of his entire career as a threatening, yet parody-like lighthouse keeper you can’t take your eyes off of. His acting reached the peak when he’s forced to perform in front of the camera while also being literally buried alive by Pattinson’s character, showing a level of commitment that’s worth the likes of Daniel Day Lewis and Min-sik Choi. Robert Pattinson’s conflicted performance is, also, worth praising due to the relentless commitment to violent, disgusting and downright insane scenes he had to carry. In his case, the scene with the seagull truly shows how much Pattinson has grown to become one of the very best actors working today.
A masterpiece open to interpretation
Since I’d like to keep this article spoiler-free, I will avoid talking about possible interpretations of The Lighthouse, which is one of those films that do need a spoiler-filled analyses at some point. For now, let’s just say my interpretation of the meaning of this picture changed completely from first to second watch: I do still believe both my ideas might be correct, though, which really speaks volumes about how multi-layered and profound Robert Eggers’ film is.
Whether you liked it or not, The Lighthouse is a film with little to complain about: on my first viewing I was kind of bothered by the insistence on fart jokes but, believe it or not, they hold relevance in the movie as well, aside from making the audience giggle and showing how much the director doesn’t want to put himself on a pedestal. For the first time since 2008, when Martyrs came out, my favourite horror film of the year is also my favourite film of the year: The Lighthouse blew me away and I can’t wait to watch it again and again.
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