The Lighthouse: Egger’s spellbinding take on the slow burn

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Lightkeepers Wake and Winslow, portrayed by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, look on, captured in black and white vintage film in Robert Egger's "The Lighthouse." Behind them stands a custom-built lighthouse on the shores of Nova Scotia, an essential keystone to the film.

Natalia Mora, Memorial Copy Editor

Little can offset the gut deeper than suspense. It’s a malleable filmmaking tool, tapping into the human’s innate fear of what it cannot understand. Its implementation can be quantified as a time frame of silence, lazily pasted before a jumpscare, as it often does in the 21st century’s horror media; in its best cases, the craft plays into the weaving web of insanity, forcing the mind to visceral ambiguity and sparking the fire that lights under the hare before the fox pursues.

Yet, in up-and-coming director Robert Egger’s most recent macabre film “The Lighthouse,” the danger never strikes but instead hangs itself over one’s psyche like a chandelier, inciting a hyperrealistic unease in even the most detached of viewers. The “enchantment in the light” sends its viewer into a mind game that keeps one pondering weeks after leaving the theater.

Eggers has been projected as a future visionary of the industry following the critical acclaim of 2015 horror flick “The Witch.” Following its wide release Oct. 18, a majority of his critics and casual viewers alike place “The Lighthouse” on Eggers’ trophy shelf as his magnum opus. Some even extend the appraisal, deeming it a crown jewel of the lead actors Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe’s careers as well.

On the abandoned banks of a New England island, presumably in the 1890s, the two-man show ensues as indentured servant Ephraim Winslow (Pattinson) and keeper-in-chief Thomas Wake (Dafoe) begrudgingly carry out their four-week shift. Both actors, specifically Dafoe, raise the bar to perform more viscerally than we’ve witnessed from their careers before. The film is best experienced in gross likeness to the characters’ experience: spoiler-free, entrenched from start to finish; in this spirit, a plot synopsis beyond this skeleton is not warranted.

The film is captured in black and white 35mm film, using vintage Baltar lenses developed in the 1930s. Additionally, Eggers exhibits a flair for historical authenticity, as his props and set pieces are astonishingly realistic. Shot at a real lighthouse in Nova Scotia, Eggers seemed, if but to fasten his style into the very soil they shot the film upon, demanding of engrossingly realistic visuals. The looming terror of the beacon above them casts out any need for extraneous financial resources.

The horror is delivered not in conventional jumpscares, but by a subtle but unrelenting force that seems to be pulling sanity itself at the seams. The passage of time and reality itself muddies with the progression, and despite no sign of real danger posed at our lightkeeper duo, the wicked behemoth that lies in the corner of their eyes distorts the brain’s machinations in and of itself.

Egger’s intriguing aspect ratio and design was likely the quality that paved the way towards its cinematography nomination in the Academy Awards. Despite its great strides, the Academy failed to grant its weight in gold with the Best Cinematography award, its nomination falling short to Roger Deakins’ “one-take” virtuoso “1917.” Its cinematic merits did not go unnoticed, scoring the Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography and the American Society of Cinematographers Spotlight Award, met with two awards for Dafoe’s chilling supporting role.

 

Contact Natalia Mora at [email protected]