The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse ★★★★★

2019 in film - Ranked

Seen at IFFR 2020

The Lighthouse is somewhat of an anomaly. A horror period piece about two lighthouse keepers and their slow descent into madness. One of them repeatedly jerks off to a mermaid statue, the other one farts uncontrollably, and their conversations consist of little more than sailor slang. And not only that, it’s also filmed in black-and-white and the sound design is dominated by fog horns. There’s no way this film should work, yet it does... And it doesn’t just work, it’s one of the best films of the past year.

This is the kind of horror film that are too few and far between. No reliance on jumpscares, no overabundance of gore; it’s the Lynchian kind of horror that unnerves you and makes you feel uncomfortable by an incredibly effective use of sound and imagery. It’s like you’re watching a nightmare slowly unfolding; it starts relatively ordinary, but the images get weirder and more unsettling as the characters slowly drift off into insanity. The incredible use of sound and score add to that feeling. They work in such perfect harmony that it’s almost impossible to separate them. Sound is a constant throughout the film, and it makes the images all the more haunting.

Another important aspect that amplifies the film’s nightmarish and fantastical qualities, is the cinematography. The cinematography is rather unorthodox; it’s shot on 35mm black-and-white film with an aspect-ratio of 1.19:1. The way Eggers plays with composition and shadows within the almost square frame reinforces the film’s claustrophobic and mesmerizing nature.

While the technical aspects play an integral part in why the film works as well as it does, the two actors who lead it have to make it all believable. Simply saying they do so would be a disservice to their work, because they are one of the best acting duos of last year. The chemistry between Pattinson and Dafoe is amazing. There is a palpable tension between the two, accentuated by their characters’ differing manners and ways of speaking. Their line-delivery is spot on, and they truly make the characters’ descent into madness believable. Having their characters converse using little more than sailor's jargon is a risky choice, but it pays off. Lines like “Yer fond of me lobster ain’t ye?,” and “Why’d y’spill yer beans?,” are delivered in a way that makes you chuckle from unease; with this film it’s really a coping mechanism.

Every year, people declare that there is some sort of “Renaissance of Horror“ going on. You may (dis)agree with that belief, but there’s no denying that the past few years have been very kind when it comes to original horror films. Robert Eggers is one of the visionaries to thank for that; he’s showing the moviegoing audience that the genre of horror, in the right hands, can still be something to be excited about, something that can still be truly scary. The Lighthouse is a testament to how horror films can still transcend the boundaries they are often associated with. If this film is any indication, there’s every reason to be excited for Eggers' new interpretation of Nosferatu.

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