Hysteria at Sea

‘The Lighthouse’ invokes 1930’s films in an inventive way.


Maanya Shah

A dark expanse of water with its middle illuminated, mirroring the ominous opening shots of ‘The Lighthouse.’

This past October saw the release of a wide variety of movies. From box office giants like ‘Joker’ to streaming service-oriented films like ‘The Irishman,’ there was something for almost everyone. One film that went under many filmgoers’ radars, however, was ‘The Lighthouse.’ ‘The Lighthouse’ is the latest film by Roger Eggers, director of ‘The Witch.’ Working with Eggers on this movie were two actors, as in only two actors, whom you’re likely to be familiar with – Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe.

The first thing that stands out about ‘The Lighthouse,’ and one of the few things you can gauge from the ominous trailers, is the picture’s style. It is shot in black and white, and unlike other purposefully black and white films (e.g. ‘Ed Wood’), ‘The Lighthouse’ commits fully by using early twentieth century cameras for shooting. For film buffs, this would be really intriguing. However, it can easily drive away the average viewer. Arif Nahid ’20, for example, said that “Color adds a lot to movies,” and in many ways, that is true. That being said, many elements of the production are very twenty-first century. For example, the tracking shots and transitions, which flow too well to resemble a decades-old picture, and some sparingly used CGI. The latter may not be the best example, though, as it does stand out as a rare phenomenon. The vast majority of the movie uses practical effects, with some noticeable examples including a mermaid and corpse that appear periodically. Another very real aspect is the portrayal of late 1800s England. This was achieved by filming in a scarcely populated area in Nova Scotia. The result is a very beautiful and natural environment, which is complemented by the fact that Robert Pattinson, like his character, seems to be very uncomfortable in the heavy rainfall.

The plot of the movie is simple but compelling. It follows two lighthouse keepers as they slowly descend into madness. The plot is taken in an interesting direction, with one character’s anger at his situation being apparent from almost the beginning. One student, Henry Hillman ’22 considered the premise. “That sounds like a cool plot. Movies about isolation are always cool, like ‘The Survivor’.” It is not long before the tensions hit a boiling point, but the director chooses to spend a lot of time focusing on the precipice of the disaster. This makes a large chunk of the movie very intense, to the point where you actively expect something horrible to happen at any moment.

Another thing the film uses to its advantage is the sense of “mystery.” Foreshadowing is kept to a minimum so as not to give away its hand early on. Instead, the plot unravels steadily. The mystery itself is twofold – there is the case of the lighthouse keepers and the supernatural tendencies of the lighthouse itself. These elements work, combined with the cinematography  keep you invested throughout the whole movie. Dialogue is frequently underlined by foreshadowing or ominous statements that come into play later on. All of the darkness is balanced out, surprisingly, by the fact that this movie has a funny bone. Willem Dafoe’s performance, in particular, is key to this aspect. His accent and mannerisms, as well as his general charisma, help make scenes that would otherwise be serious, become really funny.

Thematically, the culture and legends surrounding sailing are pushed to the forefront. In the sparing trailer, the focus is on the superstition that seagulls embody dead sailors. In the film, this symbolism is expanded upon. The movie also showcases Greek mythology, specifically the tales of Prometheus and Poseidon. 

The dialogue is very well done in that it goes above and beyond, with making itself seem historically accurate. One minor problem with this is that without subtitles, it is easy to miss or mishear something during conversations. This is mostly a non-issue, as almost all of the dialogue delivered quickly is conveyed through exaggerated tones and movements, especially in scenes involving drinking. 

Overall, ‘The Lighthouse’ is a very unique and engaging movie to watch.  It’s the kind of movie that only comes around once in a long while. That being said, its length and style might not be for everyone, but it’s certainly worth a try.

To watch ‘The Lighthouse’ on Vudu, click HERE.

Foreshadowing is kept to a minimum so as not to give away its hand early on.