The Lighthouse (2019): A Horrifying Delve into Insanity
From the relatively-new horror director Robert Eggers (2015’s The Witch), comes The Lighthouse, which centers on two lighthouse keepers, Thomas Wake (played Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (played by Robert Pattinson) as they are tasked with taking care of a lighthouse on an isolated island. After spending around a month in the lighthouse together, the two slowly spiral down a path of insanity.
Can I just say that throughout the entire film, there are only two actors, and by God, both Dafoe and Pattinson truly deliver! Willem Dafoe truly comes off as an experienced lighthouse keeper, even nailing the sailor dialect! However, what really surprised me was Pattinson’s performance. He not only holds his own alongside a legend, but also transcends his performance as Ephraim Winslow, especially as he becomes increasingly insane. Robert Pattinson often is not taken seriously by movie watchers due to being Edward Cullen in Twilight. However, the truth is that he hates Twilight more than anyone else and has done everything he can to wash the Twilight off of him. His performance in The Lighthouse not only made me forget he was ever in Twilight, but also makes me 100% confident in his ability to play Bruce Wayne in Matt Reeves’ upcoming The Batman!
The best description for the feelings invoked throughout its runtime is dread, anxiety, and disorientation. Foghorn sounds occur from the beginning to the end of the film, which combines with the ambient sounds of the island and the score to make a consistently intense tone that heavily suggests some coming disaster. Long stretches with little to no dialogue add to the uneasiness felt exacerbated by the cinematography which feels distant from the characters and their actions. The two men themselves are constantly going back and forth on a scale of being distant, to being best friends, and to being ready to murder each other; sometimes all during a single scene. Their relationship is always on the verge of some sort of explosive climax that only escalates as they become increasingly drunk and more unstable.
Making the film in black and white further adds to the ominous feeling of dread. In many ways, the film is shot in a similar manner to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Scenes hidden in shadow brings an element of a fear of the unknown and makes you question what lurks around the corner. Meanwhile, scenes shown in the light offer a temporary sense of security. However, that sense becomes more and more diluted as the film continues and eventually even in the light that dread persists.
While I was watching this film, I found several aspects of it were similar to Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue. Both films revolve around the main characters’ downward spiral of insanity and both masterfully bend the scope of reality, making you question which events are really happening and which exist in the imagination of the characters. Throughout The Lighthouse, Pattinson’s Ephraim Winslow slowly has his reality collapse as he becomes increasingly unhinged alongside Dafoe’s Thomas Wake who feels off from the start and only manages to get worse from there.
Horror films don’t get enough respect and recognition in the world of film criticism. However, I think that horror is one of the most unique film genres and can help push boundaries and storytelling if properly done. The issue lies with Hollywood not having original ideas and only pushing out recycled subpar slasher-esque films. The Lighthouse should be a mold for all future horror films to take note and learn from. After watching it, I couldn’t stop thinking about the film. With stellar performances from both Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe along with its mind-bending depiction of insanity, The Lighthouse is a must-watch for both fans of horror and cinema!
Co-Written by: Michael Li