A Mesmerizing Plunge into Madness

 by Jack Miller ‘21

Writer and director Robert Eggers follows up his stupendous debut feature film, “The VVitch,” with the terrifically audacious “The Lighthouse,” a stunning black-and-white psychodrama starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as two lighthouse-keepers working on a deserted island post in 19th-century Maine. Dafoe gives a career-defining performance as Thomas Wake, the aging sea captain in charge of the lighthouse. He is every old mariner cliché rolled into one, spending a large portion of the runtime spouting incomprehensible sea-talk, guzzling booze, chewing pipes, and farting. Pattinson, in an equally brilliant performance, is Ephraim Winslow, a reserved lumberjack who has come to work under Wake to flee from his shady past. Clumped into close quarters with the overbearing old man, Winslow is quick to develop a disdain for Wake.  Over the course of their scheduled month of labor, the two are sent on a downward spiral into delirium and savagery as they face the unbearable solitude of the island, as well as haunting hallucinations, a raging sea storm, and each other.

The first half-hour or so is spent luxuriating in the elaborate beauty of Eggers’ meticulous craft. Each shot is utterly transfixing. The film’s deliberate pacing allows the audience to sink into the overwhelming allure of each frame. The fierce monochrome imagery, along with Mark Korven’s ominous score, conjures a wonderful mix of horror, awe, and excitement. The stark lighting, symmetrical shot composition, and minimal camera movement creates an eerie atmosphere while making for a breathtaking visual experience. As with “The VVitch,” Jarin Blaschke’s grainy 35mm cinematography acts as a window into a forgotten past. Eggers’ decision to shoot in an almost square aspect ratio (1.19:1) lends the film a claustrophobic feeling that reflects the confines of the island and works in conjunction with the black-and-white color palette, Bergmanesque framing, and antique mise-en-scène to make the film appear as if it had been shot a century ago.

Though Eggers’ direction is worthy of endless amounts of praise, there’s a film underneath it that is just as exciting and impressive. “The Lighthouse” is bonkers. Though it starts out in a relatively simple manner, the film continues down a far more daring route that unfolds in the most satisfying and exciting way imaginable. There is a constant rise in tension and chaos as the two men hurdle towards insanity, leading to some of the most exhilarating and memorable scenes in recent memory. One of the most surprising aspects of the film is how funny it is. Eggers blends humor and horror seamlessly, with the comedy creating uneasiness and anxiety rather than detracting from the creepy atmosphere. Thus, “The Lighthouse” acts as the perfect stage for its stars to let loose their wildest abilities. Dafoe and Pattinson flawlessly convey an enormous range of emotions, doing so in a horrific, hilarious, and hypnotic fashion. The two men drink, dance, fight, cry, and vomit their way to the film’s electrifying conclusion. The finale is a spellbinding explosion of surreal imagery, lovecraftian horror, and ambitious filmmaking that will surely be interpreted and discussed for years to come.

If “The VVitch” wasn’t proof enough, “The Lighthouse” establishes Robert Eggers as a true auteur that is capable of revitalizing the horror genre. A film as visually arresting as this deserves to be seen on the big screen, so be sure to catch it in theaters while you still can.