The Lighthouse (2019)
Director: Robert Eggers
Screenwriter: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, Valeria Karaman
It’s always a pleasure when a film is able to remain entrancing from the first shot to the last. Which aspects of The Lighthouse contribute to that? A better question is; which parts don’t? This is one of the greatest theater experiences you will ever have (and this is a movie that needs to be seen in a theater). It’s a slow burn horror film capable of chilling you to the bone as it follows the descent into madness of two isolated lighthouse keepers.
If you love “artistic” movies, the opening of The Lighthouse will leave you breathless. Jarin Blaschke has an eye for beautiful shot composition, like the two wickies on the bow of a ship, their bodies each divided by the frame. Heavy lighting creates gorgeous contrast between the two characters, and casts frightening shadows upon their faces. The long takes as Robert Pattinson explores his new surroundings separate The Lighthouse from even modern horror cinema’s tendency to cut too much. This changes over the course of the story, as certain actions necessitate montage-like sequences, but even those contain singular takes before moving from one moment to the next.
The sound design and soundtrack each drag the audience into the world. The sound of a fog horn plagues Pattinson and the viewer all at once, and the score adapts the horn to reflect that constant sonic intrusion. Its eeriness is the first indication that this is, indeed, a horror film, as it ventures from the eerie into darker, more dissonant tones.
Willem Dafoe delivers many tall tales like an old drunk sailor, and they both use grammar and vocabulary that places them obviously outside of our time. Each is captivating in the time they’re given to shine, and they play off each other incredibly well. The chemistry and tension between the two ebbs and flows masterfully, and there are some surprising moments of humor that help ground the film. In addition to the great dialogue, the script’s mythology feels rooted in Lovecraft and sailor superstition, but also includes allusions to Greek myths.
Films like this are why cinema exists. It takes advantage of the form’s unique qualities to deliver a brilliant work of horror. There’s nothing you can watch that is like The Lighthouse. It takes a classic visual style and adapts it to current sensibilities and tastes while remaining engrossing and mysterious. If there’s a single movie you watch from 2019, it should be The Lighthouse.
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