From the beginning, horror movies have been art; existing to find new and unique ways to terrify audiences and push them to feel. The genre has lost its respect after so many franchises that stayed past their due, or didn’t even try. Despite that, horror has had a resurgence in the past few years. Movies like Get Out have had strong social commentary while Hereditary and similar films have aimed at blending true terror with deep subtext.
Writer and director Robert exploded onto the scene with The VVitch, a period-accurate tale of the supernatural. Most recently, Eggers directed The Lighthouse, a mind bending film detailing the descent into madness of two lighthouse keepers stuck together on an island.
The whole film can be summed up in a few choice adjectives; disturbing, dark, strange, beautiful, and confusing. The plot is intentionally difficult to follow, utilizing an unreliable narrator and a near impossible to understand timeline. At any moment, it’s immensely difficult to pinpoint how long the men have been on the island together. To add to the confusion, both characters talk in heavy accents and 1890s accurate vernacular. While this adds to the tone, it does require a lot of effort from the audience.
What keeps viewers hooked through the incomprehensible plot is the performances from the two leads, Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Dafoe demonstrates mastery. It’s an Oscar worthy portrayal of insanity. Pattinson is also incredible. He serves as the eyes of the audience, which allows him to demonstrate a captivating character arc. His performance just gets better and better as the film progresses.
The film wouldn’t be the same without all the meticulous details in the more technical aspects. Everything that happens is in a square in the center of the screen instead of a rectangle like most modern films. This creates a sense of claustrophobia as if the audience is trapped with the men. The choice to be completely in black in white is also a smart one. It grounds the world in a dark and dreary tone, which is only heightened by the sound design. A loud foghorn is repeated frequently, and it constantly puts the viewer on edge. In the soundtrack, loud droning horns and high pitched tones create an uneasy feeling. The establishment of a clear tone is stunningly executed.
The main problems come in trying to actually understand the film. It’s extremely dense. I found myself simultaneously entranced in the events of the film while also completely confused. There’s clearly a lot to unpack, like the frequent gay subtext and allusions to Greek mythology, but it’s not surface level at all. I know I’ll want to return to the film to try to dig deeper into what it really means, now that I’m not going to be so shocked by everything happening. First time viewers may not understand what was happening at all — I sure didn’t — which can turn audiences away from the film. I enjoyed it, but I know many others who wouldn’t.
It is an entirely unique experience. To be completely honest, I don’t know how to recommend this movie. It is not a definable experience as it could be wonderful for some, but absolutely awful for others.
The occasional graphic violence and sexuality is off putting, even for a seasoned horror movie watcher like myself. I would say if anything, if the film in anyway seems interesting, give it a chance. Seeing the way that all the elements of the film are impeccably done and blend together to create this fever dream of a movie. For some, the movie might be worth the potential discomfort. I left the theater with my mind broken, my only thought “what did I just watch,” which is what true horror should be. If the movie you watch doesn’t leave you with something, it hasn’t done it’s job.
Because there is so much to unpack I recommend doing exactly what I plan to: rewatching. Even if I end up hating the film upon further viewings, it’s undeniable that Eggers is doing something immensely interesting for the horror genre as a whole. If more movies like this came out, the genre may finally be respected as art again.