Sea Birds, Merfolk and Madness: A review of Robert Eggers’ ‘The Lighthouse’

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"How long have we been on this rock? Five weeks? Two days? Help me to recollect.”

“How long have we been on this rock? Five weeks? Two days? Help me to recollect.”

Director Robert Eggers is quickly establishing himself as one of the most impressive new talents in Hollywood. His new release, “The Lighthouse,” is only his second film, yet he is already exhibiting talent far surpassing almost all of his contemporaries.  

“The Lighthouse” is a film unlike any other. Despite its slow-moving plot and minimal dialogue, Eggers keeps his viewers in rapt attention throughout. This is in part thanks to the exquisite cinematography and sound design, but also in large part due to the brilliant performances by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe.   

The film’s plot is fairly straightforward. Dafoe and Pattinson play “wickies” who are tasked with maintaining a lighthouse on a small deserted rock of an island for four weeks. As the days go on and tempers rise, both men descend into madness. Both actors deliver what are undoubtedly among the best performances of their careers — Pattinson proving his incredible dramatic range to audiences who most likely only associate him with “Twilight” and Dafoe once again reminding us why he remains one of the most celebrated actors working today. 

After Dafoe and Pattinson, the visuals by Jaren Blaschke are the film’s other star. Shot in black and white on film, the visual style of this film makes it a rarity in modern cinema. The harsh shadows and weathered, grainy style mesh so perfectly with the production design and the setting that you soon forget that the style is unusual whatsoever and accept it as just another part of the film. After the gorgeous achievements made here and in last year’s “Roma,” it seems strange that studios do not produce black and white films more often. 

The story harkens back to many classic sources, from the ancient myth of Prometheus (which also gave rise to Mary Shelly’s classic novel “Frankenstein”) to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s classic poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” With these timeless classics as inspiration and an atmosphere reminiscent of the works of Edgar Allen Poe, the film feels like the product of another time; a frightening sailor’s yarn passed down through the ages. 

For those interested in dissecting the meaning of a film, this one is ripe with interpretation. The film is filled with themes of male sexuality, loneliness, spirituality and identity. Still, the underlying messages never get in the way of the audience’s enjoyment, only serving to further enhance the viewing experience.  

If you are a fan of horror or more specifically of Egger’s first film, “The VVitch,” this film is a must-see. Rarely in the last few years are viewers given the chance to see a wholly original film which exists purely to stand on its own, and this one reminds us of how incredible the results can be if a director is allowed to follow their own imagination.  

If you are looking for a movie that will scare you, this is probably not that movie. Instead of reliance on jump-scares and constant frights, Eggers slowly builds the mood, making the audience feel increasingly uneasy through the tense, claustrophobic and surreal atmosphere. If you’d like to see a horror film that will stay in your mind long after you have left the theater, I can think of no better film this year than “The Lighthouse.”  

Rating: 4.5/5  


Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at evan.burns@uconn.edu.

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