Though Halloween has passed, spooky movie season is still in full swing. This year has been host to a number of notable thrilling and horrific movies, from “Midsommar” to “Climax.” Falling right in with these creepy films is “The Lighthouse,” directed by Robert Eggers. The film stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Defoe as lighthouse keepers on a remote island in nondescript New England who gradually lose their minds as a storm prevents their departure and they must encounter the mysterious and disorienting natural world.
The film is shot in black and white, giving the movie an old-timey quality. The cinematography really leans into this grainy, rough character, a creative decision that makes the movie feel grimier and damp.
“The Lighthouse” fits well into the category of thriller, focusing less on gore or big scares than on gradually building suspense with ominous or foreboding scenes. With the isolated characters gradually losing sanity, combined with their inability to escape, the movie displays quintessential thriller qualities. The dynamic between the characters is set up early, with Defoe playing Thomas Wake, the older more experienced lighthouse keeper or “wickie” and Robert Pattinson playing Ephraim Winslow, the new recruit. Wake makes Winslow do all of the menial and strenuous jobs around the island, like carrying buckets of coal or cleaning the floor several times for perfection or repainting the walls of the lighthouse while Wake holds Winslow by a rather worn-out rope.
Tension quickly rise between the two as Winslow begins to resent Wake for giving him responsibility for so many tasks while Wake sits in the lantern room of the lighthouse, mesmerized by the rippling gleam of the lighthouse lens. As a result, the men begin to doubt each other, both seeming to lose their bearings while trying to give competing claims of truth. The competition starts with small questions they ask each other, eerily building to questions that might not have an easy answer, like how long they’ve been on the island. A few days? Maybe a few weeks?
The way the movie plays with reliable narrators or characters makes it difficult to exactly believe who is truthful or in the right. While Defoe’s character has clearly already spiraled, often spending prolonged periods of time staring into the light of the lighthouse, Pattinson’s character mental state falls into a more ambiguous area. Defoe’s character had already been won over by the powerful forces. Good evidence of this is the way he sits naked staring at the bright light of the lighthouse totally transfixed.
The movie felt a little long; some parts, though they helped build the tension, did not exactly cash in on that tension, instead feeling a little slow. In that vein, the movie may have benefitted from diving more into the world of horror, allowing things to get more intense or frightful. But that’s why it’s a thriller. If you’re looking for a foggy, haunting, “mysteries of the sea” kind of movie, with an almost dreamlike atmosphere, do check out “The Lighthouse.” The brooding and creeping exists in all the waterlogged cracks and fractures of the lighthouse and even the characters themselves.