The Lighthouse tells a haunting tale of two men and their tragic downfall at sea

This chilling black-and-white horror is director Robert Eggers’ second venture into the genre

The Lighthouse was included in this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival lineup. Image courtesy of A24 / VIFF.

By: Kim Regala, Peak Associate

Following his successful directorial debut with atmospheric horror film The Witch (2015), director Robert Eggers returns to the big screen with another haunting tale that’s sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. Starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, The Lighthouse follows the story of two lighthouse keepers who are stranded on an island with nobody else for company. The thrilling two-hour production takes us through their tragic downfall, as they start to lose sight of themselves and their reality.

Reminiscent of old Hollywood films that date back to nearly a century ago, The Lighthouse is shot entirely in 35 mm format and, of course, in black and white. This makes for some visually stunning and unique imagery, giving the viewers a wholly different experience from the typical CGI-infused motion pictures of today’s cinema. Eggers also opted for a square format as opposed to the traditional 16:9 ratio that is usually used in modern films. Film blogger Chris Evangelista notes in his review: “As a result, everything is squeezed into the frame [ . . . ] no doubt meant to invoke the claustrophobic vibe of working in a lighthouse on a remote island.”

Aesthetics aside, Eggers uses the black-and-white well, as he plays around with contrasts of light and darkness. Many of the indoor scenes are dimly lit with only a single candle on the table as the light source. As a result, we can see the casting of silhouette-like figures and tall shadows against the walls. While the overall lack of colour further creates an eerie and ominous feel, it is especially frightening in these moments of darkness as we are unaware of what may be lurking behind the shadows.

The Lighthouse also draws inspiration from early experimental and psychodrama genres. One particular filmmaker comes to mind: Kenneth Anger, an experimental director from the 1930s. As a young queer director, Anger’s films were highly controversial in his days, displaying rather disturbing and graphic imagery that dealt with taboo topics like homosexuality and violence. His short drama film, Fireworks (1947), embodies a dreamlike sequence of a man’s provocative fantasies amongst other men. Spoiler alert and a trigger warning for homophobic violence on this film: a gay man ends up being gang-raped by a group of sailors, but only in his dreams allegedly. While The Lighthouse does not offer such explicit a scenario, it does hold these similar themes of eroticism and likewise garners a dreamlike effect, especially when the characters get closer to the lighthouse. Pattinson and Dafoe’s relationship in the film continually transforms in intriguing and often uncomfortable ways, often dancing between these lines of violence and sexuality.

While I don’t want to reveal too much about how the story ends (and honestly, I’m not sure if I really do know), I can tell you to prepare yourself for a spine-chilling experience. Both Pattinson and Dafoe truly dive into the darkest depths of their characters, and at the film’s conclusion, you are left questioning if all the events you witnessed really unfolded in the characters’ lives or were just simply figments of your imagination.

The Lighthouse is currently playing in theatres across Canada — just in time for Halloween.