Director Robert Eggers, the mind behind the 2015 supernatural period horror film The Witch, is no stranger to creating a tense, unnerving cinematic atmosphere in his movies. His latest tale of psychological horror, The Lighthouse, is no exception.
The film received critical acclaim from audiences and critics for its production design and the performances of Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Shot completely in black-and-white, The Lighthouse is a chilling look at the human mind as it plunges into utter madness and chaos. The film doesn’t need creepy ghost children or evil clowns; the only monsters in this movie are the monstrous qualities of man which quite possibly makes The Lighthouse the most disturbing film of 2019.
*The article may contain mild spoilers for The Lighthouse.
Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe play two stranded lighthouse keepers
One of the most striking elements of the film is the performance given by Pattinson and Dafoe. Pattinson plays Ephraim Winslow, a former lumberjack who has picked up a contract job as a lighthouse keeper. He is accompanied and supervised by an older seasoned lightkeeper named Thomas Wake, played by Willem Dafoe. The two spend the majority of the time irritating and antagonizing one another all while a violent storm leaves them stranded on the island they are stationed at. Trapped among antagonistic seagulls and visions of shrieking mermaids, the two men slowly descend into insanity.
Pattinson himself delivered an especially powerfully visceral performance due to his use of method acting, such as consuming copious amounts of alcohol when the scene called for it and licking mud straight from the ground. Pattinson and Dafoe masterfully created a tense, volatile atmosphere between two men with mysterious pasts who struggle to hold onto their sanity when disaster strikes.
‘The Lighthouse’ explores superstitions and mythological sea creatures
In the film’s trailer, Wake warns Winslow not to disturb or quarrel with the seagulls flocking around the surrounding area, fervently believing that it’s bad luck to harm a seagull since they are the reincarnated spirits of fallen sailors according to old sea superstitions. As Winslow continues to be bullied and harassed by flocks of birds while he attempts to go along with his daily duties, it becomes apparent that what appears to be nature going awry may actually be something far more sinister. Are the omens and curses that Wake feared coming true, or are the two men actually losing their minds?
As tensions between the men and their rapidly deteriorating environment continue to rise, Winslow continues to have terrifying dreams and visions of vicious mermaids and monstrous sea creatures. What begins as the epitome of a toxic work environment evolves into a supernatural nightmare straight from ancient tales of mythology. The Lighthouse is full of disturbing, nightmarish imagery that will continue to make us wonder just what horrors are lurking beneath the depths of the sea.
The film is a psychological horror tale founded upon our worst fears
Throughout The Lighthouse, we watch the series of horrific events unfold through the eyes of Robert Pattinson’s character, Ephraim Winslow. As he begins to question the reality and sanity of the world around him, we’re left in the dark to question the same things. The film constantly alternates between eerie visions of supernatural events and the growing hostilities between Winslow and Wake.
The film utilizes an aspect ratio of 1.19:1, which is essentially a square frame that gives each scene a horrifically claustrophobic appearance. Since the film was shot in black-and-white, each shot is cloaked and outlined in darkness, giving every second of screen time a sinister feeling as though we’re trapped in the lighthouse alongside Wake and Winslow. The soundtrack features dramatic scores of horns and strings reminiscent of foghorns and partially inspired by the work of classic film composer Bernard Herrmann, famous for films like Psycho and Taxi Driver.
The Lighthouse reaches a gut-wrenching and gruesome finale once tensions and the film’s surreal nightmarish atmosphere reaches an all-time high. Even though the film utilizes old and classic production techniques unseen in modern horror films, The Lighthouse manages to create a horrific, unforgettable world of Lovecraftian dread and horror and a journey into the fragility of the human mind in times of crisis.
Such a visceral, chilling look into the human psyche is enough to make anyone lose sleep after watching, making The Lighthouse one of, if not the, most disturbing horror film to hit theaters in 2019.