When I started my DVD/Blu-Ray collection as a teenager, one of my key rules was that the film had to be in widescreen format. I quickly realized that not all films were made in widescreen, but still preferred the aspect of seeing all the screen that I could.
The first thing one would notice about The Lighthouse (along with it being in Black & White) is that it is filmed in 4:3. This is a vital film choice from the director Robert Eggers (who made 2016’s The Witch), as it is one of many key factors that makes his latest film so chill inducing.
Set in the late 1800s, the film revolves around two men tending a lighthouse somewhere off the shores of New England. Most of the story is seen through the eyes of the younger Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattison), who just took the job as a lighthouse keeper and is being trained by Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe). We learn right away that one of Wake’s sincere orders is to never go to the top of the lighthouse and locks it up from Winslow.
Much of what Winslow learns is by the hard way (like cleaning the sewage before drinking from the well, how to deal correctly with seagulls (more on those later), and keeping the wind factor in mind when emptying the toilet bowls). While Wake is tough, he is not without reason (he does cook for both of them).
Not to mention the flatulence. This film has quite a lot of flatulence for a movie that is not strickly comedic.
I can’t remember entirely if the film has a concrete reason for the two to be on the island (aside from keeping it in order). We do get some background of the characters (failed marriages, failed jobs, and so on), but it is what happens on the island that is important. To say that cabin fever (or lighthouse fever?) ensues is a gross understatement. We get striking visuals (thanks in large part to the cinematography of Jarin Blaschke, who also worked with Eggers on The Witch) that make the film’s horror aspects more palpable than that of a film that tries to give us cheap jump scares. Eggers is patient in waiting to frighten us.
Both of the two actors are in top form. Dafoe has always been an actor who commands a unique force, and is never boring on screen. Still, I admit to being completely surprised by Pattison. Like many, I went in remembering this is the same guy from the Twilight film series (unseen by me), only to realize I had only seen him in one other film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which was way back in 2005. I am not alone in saying I had my doubts when I heard Pattison would be the new film version of Batman, but now some of those doubts are dissipating.
Parents, this is indeed not a film for children. The film does have at least two main scenes with sexual content (as well as female nudity). There is a moment where (minor spoiler) a character is fantasizing about having sex with a mermaid (end minor spoiler). There is also a good amount of violence (especially at the end, with a truly haunting, visceral, yet somehow memorable shot), and swearing. Trust the R rating.
It is this fantasy aspect of the film, I think, that keeps the movie from being truly great. I am not sure if we needed all the fantasy aspects added, and instead just focused on the two men. Human’s diving into insanity (not unlike what we saw recently in Joker) is just as scary as the scenes we see involving seagulls (anyone who knows me is aware of my legit fear of birds).
I mentioned before how the film was shot in 4:3, giving a clear feeling of the characters being boxed in. There is indeed a sense of sheer loneliness, both for the men as individuals and together. It reminded me of moments in movies set in prison, when they would send the prisoner to “solitary”, or “the hole”. For a specific (or maybe not) amount of time, they are alone with only themselves and their thoughts.
And thoughts (mainly the sinful ones), is where horror can sometimes be birthed.