Updated: Feb 15
Set in the late 1800s, two lighthouse keepers working on a remote island become stranded due to a storm and begin to lose their sanity.
This is a pretty difficult film to talk about without spoiling it, due to it not being plot driven and more character driven. The easiest way I can describe this film is – an uncomfortable experience.
Not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly not something all filmgoers are going to like. This is a psychological thriller that puts you in the mind of the main characters who are losing their minds – to the point that you can’t tell what is real and what’s in their heads.
Shot in black-and-white 35mm film with an old style quality resembling photography that was taken in the 19th Century. It’s all presented in a 1.19:1 aspect ratio that makes it all look like a box on the huge screen. All adding to the illusion that this is a very old film, made no later than the 1930s.
The atmosphere is extremely effective, the square ratio helps add to the claustrophobia and anxiety the characters are experiencing. Throughout the film most things are shot in close-up to make it uncomfortable. Nothing about the remote island, the house they’re staying in or the lighthouse is at all appealing, you wouldn’t want to be there and you’re just routing for the characters to leave it.
There’s no background music, just natural sounds of the island and mundane actions exaggerated, as well as the alarms in the lighthouse. The constant use of water and wind make you feel cold and shivery when watching it.
The imagery helps add to the bizarreness, even when there’s nothing actually happening – the image of seagulls has never been more frightening. Adding in images of octopus tentacles and a mermaid to create a dream-like, or even nightmarish environment.
Directed by Robert Eggers who also made The Witch, which was also an atmospheric slow-burn horror film that was highly character based. It also felt pretty authentic to the time period it was set in by using natural lighting sources.
Willem Defoe and Robert Pattinson deliver fantastic performances, Defoe as Wake is an elderly keeper who’s prioritised his job over his personal life, while Pattinson’s Howard is new to the job having changed career over mysterious circumstances. Their chemistry is excellent, as we watch the two clash and bond while they slowly descend into madness, and their relationship becomes intense and hostile.
Their accents however do make it difficult to understand what they’re saying at times, particularly Defoe when he’s doing long monologues in a Maine accent that kind of makes him sound like a pirate.
Overall it’s an effective, slow-paced, psychological thriller with excellent performances, creative cinematography and bizarre imagery.
Written by Jack Parish