Cat Critics: The Lighthouse (2019)


Avery Lester

“The Lighthouse,” directed by Robert Eggers, opened in theaters nationwide in October.

Avery Lester, Staff Writer

I’ve seen over one thousand movies in my life, and in today’s era of endless blockbusters, true artistic gems are hard to come by. Once in a while, however, a movie comes along that changes my perception of film – right now, The Lighthouse is that movie.

Robert Eggers’ black and white epic The Lighthouse is a perfect film by all accounts. The harsh tone on it surface is only the tip of the iceberg; The Lighthouse is a horror film triumph and a glorious descent into the madness of its characters.

The film begins with two men arriving at an isolated lighthouse post on the shores of Nova Scotia. Their names are Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), a veteran lighthouse keeper, and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), a new face to the island. They begin their lives as keepers until Winslow discovers a hand-sized, wooden carved mermaid on his bed in the sleeping quarters. From that moment on, the normal becomes the insane. Winslow begins to experience supernatural visions of mermaids and sea monsters. In time, both Winslow and Wake’s lives descend into madness, with both alone in the middle of the ocean.

The Lighthouse runs for two hours. Though this is may be a lengthy duration, never once does the film bore or repeat; never once does it settle for average with stereotypical horror tropes. It’s bold, new, audacious and pure.

One reason for The Lighthouse’s mastery comes from the phenomenal performances of Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Dafoe shows audiences once again that he is one of the best actors alive. He showcases his skills in speaking with a heavy Nova Scotian accent and removes all traces of cheesiness from the “grumpy old man” trope of cinema. It’s a career defining performance and one that deserves high acclaim.

As for Robert Pattinson, his days as a blood sucking vampire are long gone. His performance in The Lighthouse is a breakthrough for his career. In this film, he proves he should be taken seriously as an actor – not because of his good looks, but because of his immense dramatic ability.

Not only does The Lighthouse succeed on a performance level, the film is also a marvelous technical achievement. The film is shot in 35mm, nearly a perfect square, and in black in white. It’s not often films look this way anymore – as audiences generally don’t want to see black and white stories told in tiny squares – yet Eggers defies all conventional laws and follows his vision with utter passion. The camerawork is astoundingly beautiful. Shots often linger on the exterior of the lighthouse, showing viewers the isolated outpost and making us feel alone and claustrophobic.

The film is directed by Robert Eggers, who also co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Max Eggers. Their collaborative script brings every element of human emotion to the table. The dialogue between Winslow and Wake is realistically paced and advances the character development. As for the story development, The Lighthouse is masterfully paced. It’s highly unpredictable, making it even more entertaining, but more importantly, it’s a strong film confident in what it has to say about horror, society, and isolation.

Other aspects of the film succeed on every level. The musical score is brilliant and used incredibly appropriately. The tense, suspenseful and haunting soundtrack brings the setting to life. Music is often played loud enough to drown out the dialogue, further exaggerating the claustrophobia and isolation depicted in the film. This intensity is heavily complemented by quick and rapid cutting. Louise Ford served as the film’s editor, and already, I can detect a masterful editor at work. Her editing style is so personal and meaningful; with each cut she makes, the value of each scene increases.

The movie is set during the late 19th century and early 20th century, and production designs are so convincing that audiences always feel like they’re in a lighthouse from the time period. Dafoe and Pattinson’s costumes, likewise, are expertly made and realistic. Every possible effort is made to encapsulate the viewer in the world of a deserted Canadian island.

Principal photography began in 2018 on a real island in Nova Scotia. The effort to create an authentic setting works tremendously. We never feel like Wake and Winslow are on a Hollywood sound stage – every shore and building seems real because it is. It’s this level of legitimacy that speak volumes to the craftsmanship put forth by each of the filmmakers.

Every aspect of the movie’s imagery is on point and done thoroughly and effectively. Many times during the film, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. The movie is so flawlessly executed that I often thought I was doing more than just sitting in a reclining chair in a theater – I was with Winslow and Wake, growing a disastrous case of cabin fever with them.

Fifty years years from now, The Lighthouse will likely be remembered as a defining moment in cinema. It’s films like these that remind me of the shear beauty and power of cinema as an art form. I love movies for many reasons. This film is one of them; the world built in the film is so unlike anything I’ve ever seen. This is a movie that delivers the entertainingly unexpected at every moment. The Lighthouse will undoubtedly go down as a classic horror movie in the future, but it should be seen now for viewers to remember in the present.