the lighthouse

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in 'The Lighthouse.' IMDB Production Credit: A24. 

This review contains spoilers. 

Following 2015’s acclaimed 16th century horror folktale “The Witch,” director Roger Eggers has outdone himself with his latest film, “The Lighthouse,” starring mostly Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in co-lead rolls with one other actress, Valeriia Karaman. 

In the film, the younger Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) is partnered with the begrudged, older Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) to serve as a “wickie” a term for a lighthouse keeper  on an isolated island off the New England coast. While there, the two become increasingly irritated with each others actions, and mere presence in some instances. Winslow is especially frustrated with his limited, but labor-intensive duties contrary to what he’d been taught. But while all of this social turmoil — and binge drinking — is unfolding, supernatural events are happening too. 

As a result of Winslow discovering a scrimshaw mermaid sculpture in his bed and seeing his supervisor, Wake, go up to the lighthouse’s lantern room and strip naked, he begins to experience what can only be described as surreal and hallucinatory events as he slowly appears to lose his sanity. 

He also curses the pair into being trapped by a storm after harming a seagull — this film’s ‘Black Phillip’ —  something explicitly warned against by Wake. 

By the end of the almost-two-hour-long film, the pair have reached a breaking point and the younger Winslow has finally — as he’d tried several times prior — attempted to get into the lighthouse’s lantern room. This proves to be devastating. 

Initially released at Cannes International Film Festival on May 19, 2019 where it won the FIPRESCI Prize, Eggers’ sophomore effort, written with his brother Max, had its wide theatrical release four months later on Oct. 18 with A24 handling the distribution. Dark, gritty and with a synthesized musical score, it is a film that evokes feelings of true loneliness, and the frustration that comes with being the keepers of an isolated lighthouse miles away from shore.  

The film was made on orthochromatic-tinted black-and-white film with a tight, square aspect ratio of 1.19:1 — an aspect ratio used mostly by Fox during the beginning of the sound era between 1926 and 1932. It  has an aesthetic unlike anything prior to it, which in certain scenes, succeeds in blurring the line between the real and fantastical. 

Sonically, “The Lighthouse” is a sublime work of art — almost a sensory overload. 

Equally as immersive as the visuals, the film’s sound design is almost a character in-and-of-itself. From the very beginning of the film when Wake and Winslow marchup to the lighthouse, the distant crashing of large waves, gulls and deafening drone of the horn come together to further isolate the pair on the island. Perfectly complementing the diegetic sounds of the film is a roaring synthesized score by Mark Korven, a repeat Eggers collaborator who also helmed the score for “The Witch.”

At the time of writing this review, the film, and related individuals are — deservedly — up for award contention this year. For the Film Independent Spirit Awards Eggers has been nominated for Best Director, Louise Ford for Best Editing, Jarin Blashchke for Best Cinematography and both Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe for Best Male Lead and Best Supporting Male, respectively.

A prior version of this article incorrectly claimed that Thomas Wake was played by Robert Pattinson. Thomas Wake was played by Willem Dafoe. 

Film/TV Reporter

James is a Film/TV reporter who mainly specializes in the horror genre. Outside of reporting for the Daily Emerald, he is an avid vinyl record collector and contributes to published guides when he can. Send tips to [email protected]