If the likes of John Carpenter’s The Fog and Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island have taught us anything, it’s that lighthouses and horror are a match made in heaven (or hell, rather).
In the most wonderfully ironic way, buildings with the sole purpose of being beacons of light to enable sailors’ safe passage have become haunting, secluded, solitary structures, synonymous with tales of terror.
Early next year, the lighthouse once again takes centre stage as the setting for a sinister story of loneliness, sanity and isolation in Robert Eggers’s film of the same name.
Judging from the moody trailers, The Lighthouse is a dark, disconcerting maritime nightmare that delves into the lives of two 19th century lighthouse-keepers and their dwindling grip on reality. Here are five reasons why you ought to be excited…
1. Robert Eggers's first film was The Witch
Horror fans were treated to a feast of frights when Eggers unleashed his debut feature film, The Witch, in 2016. A brooding, nightmarish exploration of family frictions, the film stars a scintillating Anya Taylor-Joy as the eldest child in a family of 17th century English settlers who experience ominous occurrences in the secluded forest near their New England homestead.
Notable for its arresting visuals, uncompromising, period-authentic dialogue and arguably cinema’s most sinister goat, The Witch is an exciting, accomplished introduction to the director’s precocious talents. Things look promising for The Lighthouse, then — if it’s even half as good as The Witch, we’re in for a deliciously dark treat.
2. It stars two of the finest actors working today
If you’re going to make a character-driven movie about two men on a remote island with only each other (and their own diminishing sanity) for company, you’ll need to cast two actors at the top of their game. And few fit the bill quite as well as Robert Pattinson (soon to be Batman) and Willem Dafoe.
The former, here playing Ephraim Winslow, a drifter looking to make enough money to settle down, has enjoyed great post-Twilight success with career-(re)defining turns in low-budget, critically acclaimed indie gems. These include Claire Denis’s dark, arresting sci-fi High Life, and the Safdie Brothers’ gritty crime caper Good Time.
Equally diverse is Dafoe, whose near 40-year career has seen him as both a staple of the mainstream studio franchise — his turn as villain Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series is widely considered one of the finest in the comic-book genre — and more divisive, thematically challenging projects like Paul Schrader’s Light Sleeper and Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist.
In The Lighthouse, Dafoe plays Thomas Wake: an ageing, weathered “wickie” and the self-proclaimed senior authority in the titular building. The Lighthouse will see the pair share the screen for the first time. Both bring a compelling, commanding presence and some very impressive facial hair.
3. The trailer gives very little away
Despite the presence of two engrossing trailers, there still isn’t a great deal we actually know about the story of The Lighthouse. And that’s most certainly a good thing.
Maintaining an alluring mystique, the film’s marketing efforts have refreshingly shed very little light on any of the film’s plot specifics, but instead have kept us in the dark about what devilish delights Eggers has in store for us.
From what little the trailer does give away, it seems the film will unnervingly lap the shores of both horror and pitch-black comedy: a tonal tidal shift that will likely create an aura of immense discomfort, in the very best way possible.
Plus, if IMDb is anything to go by, the film contains just three characters: Pattinson’s Winslow, Dafoe’s Wake and a mermaid played by Valeriia Karaman. Intriguing? Most definitely.
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4. It's got some seriously striking imagery
A large part of what made The Witch so impactful was Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke’s deft blend of frightful imagery and an atmosphere of relentless, encroaching dread.
Teaming up with Blaschke again for The Lighthouse, Eggers seems intent on that same aura of relentless terror. Shot on black and white 35mm film in a 1.19:1 aspect ratio, the film has visual overtones of classic gothic horror and German Expressionism – such movies from the 1920s frequently used such aspect ratios, and The Lighthouse looks to borrow their claustrophobic allure.
Whether it’s shots of Pattinson’s character staring in dismay at something offscreen or Dafoe’s bearded Wake wailing hauntingly into the night, Eggers’s new film looks to have all the tools to bury itself firmly under the skin.
5. It's gone down a storm with critics
Recent reviews of The Lighthouse from the Toronto Film Festival indicate that it’s nothing short of a riveting, mesmerising masterpiece.
"It’s not a far stretch to say that The Lighthouse features perhaps the best performances from Pattinson and Dafoe yet, both committing fully to their roles, every fibre of their being pressed into these characters," says Dread Central's Jonathan Barkan.
"Defoe’s Thomas, the grizzled lighthouse master, embodies the role of a man who believes in very little but the sea and the myths, superstitions, and legends that it has created over eons. He spews curses with fiery intensity and fierce conviction, spittle flying from his lips as his face contorts into a Luciferian visage.
"Pattinson’s Ephraim is a man with secrets and a seething rage that is ever leaking at the seams. He descends into the depths of depravity with wide-eyed frenzy, almost as though he is consistently shocked by how deep his emotional turmoil goes."
Brian Tallerico, writing for RogerEbert.com, takes a more poetic approach. "Waves crash, birds scream, and rain pounds. Robert Eggers's The Lighthouse wants to drive you a little mad. It’s not just a film about two people on the edge of sanity, it uses sound design and filmmaking tools to push you there too. It has the feel of watching someone else’s nightmare, and it’s not one that’s going to end well.
"While it’s ultimately a bit too self-conscious to provoke the existential dread and true terror of the best films like it, it’s still an impressive accomplishment thanks to Eggers’ fearlessness and a pair of completely committed performances."
"By turns funny, sinister, haunting, historically fascinating and mythical, "The Lighthouse" is one of the best films of the year," says New York Post's Sara Stewart. "It’s a rare pleasure to encounter a movie so genuinely strange you’re not sure how to define what you’ve just seen."
The Lighthouse is released on 31st January 2020, so if you're excited about the movie, let us know @Cineworld.
George Nash is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.