From Robert Egger, director of the acclaimed 2015 horror ‘The Witch’, comes a new terrifying horror: ‘The Lighthouse’. A classic tale of isolation and madness, it’s a Herman Melville inspired version of ‘The Shining’, with equally haunting results.
In the late 19th century, Ephraim Winslow is sent to an isolated island off the coast of New England to help look after a lighthouse. Working with the irritable old supervisor Thomas Wick, Ephraim is forced to endure ever harder tasks as he slowly begins to experience visions of fantastical imagination. After a storm renders the two men trapped, madness will slowly set in as the two drink their way into the depths of isolation.
The film stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as Ephraim and Thomas respectively, and the two of them have never been better. The brave intensity, the dark horror and the extreme anger that the two manage to portray is staggering, and it means the runtime of the film flies by. The two of them are the sole stars of the film, and utterly command the screen from the first minute to the last. Both get key moments to excel, with Dafoe delivering several killer monologues, and Pattinson getting the joyful ‘Jack Nicholson’ job of slowly going mad from isolation.
The film is shot on 35mm black and white film in the almost-square aspect ratio of 1.19:1, and this results in a vintage appearance to the film. The aspect ratio helps portray the condensed quarters the two go mad in, as well as the tall grandeur of the lighthouse which, like the film itself, is notable for its height and not its width. The dark noir image is intense, and really helps to better portray the madness that the two begin to experience. It’s stunningly beautiful to look at, with perfect framing and incredible production design aiding the story, and the cinematography by Jarin Blashke has resulted in some truly haunting images being put to film.
This picture is aided by some truly horrific (but incredible) sound design. The haunting, piercing siren of the lighthouse calls out throughout the film, and this is blended with pounding wind, splashing waves and a dreadfully unsettling score by Mark Korven. Watching this film requires strong ears, because it’s use of vibrations and deep rumblings are perfectly positioned to unsettle as well as immerse.
The story, written by Robert and his brother Max, is as simple or as complex as you would want to make it. The narrative slowly unwraps throughout the film, but never quite decides whether it’s all real or all mad fantasy, whether it’s supporting our protagonists or despising them, whether it’s from one character’s perspective or the others. It’s a truly unique method of storytelling, and it makes for very strange but very exciting viewing. The tension of the film, the truths that are exposed and the actions that are made are designed to constantly challenge the perception of what the film is and keep the audience guessing. On top of all of this, the film also has moments of strange comedy, whether it be the fact that Thomas Wake suffers from flatulence, or the emptying of chamber pots on a windy cliff that ends up blowing back in the face of Ephraim. This bizarre use of comedy only enhances the tone of the film, and means the psychological horror aspect is all the more unnerving.
Overall, ‘The Lighthouse’ is truly a work of art. Exquisite cinematography, career-best performances and a tone that is completely unique, it’s a haunting and terrifying psychological horror for the ages. Be warned that the final scene of the film, with a combination of terrifying sound and horrible image, will stain your memory for a long time.