TIFF Review: ‘The Lighthouse’ is Experimental Cinema at its Best

‘The Lighthouse’ is an experiment, in the best sense of the word. While most films try to entertain or enlighten its audience, Robert Eggers’ latest offering tries to test audience’s sanity. No, that is not an exaggeration. The two central characters in the film are shown to slowly descent into madness. And guess who is going into the dark hole along with them? Yes, you! 

The way ‘The Lighthouse’ is designed, with its dimly lit black and white cinematography and nerve-wrecking sound, it is clear that Eggers wants to put audiences through the grind as much as the two protagonists. The only respite that Eggers offers is the occasional humorous moments — and farts. One can also argue that it is a film about a bromance gone horribly wrong, but I believe the film is about master-slave or preacher-disciple dynamics. Think ‘The Master’, only much darker — quite literally. What also differentiates ‘The Lighthouse’ from other similarly structured horror films is that it is not interested in scaring you; it is more interested in making you mad. Which, actually, is praiseworthy, as far as I am concerned. 

Robert Eggers knows a thing or two about making horror films, as many of you who have watched ‘The Witch’ would know. With ‘The Lighthouse’, he has taken his horror game not up, but rather sideways, in a completely different direction. ‘The Witch’, arguably, is a better film, but ‘The Lighthouse’ is unquestionably bolder. Not only has Eggers pushed the boundaries of storytelling in his latest film but by sticking to an aesthetic that will remind you of films from 1930s, he proves that he can take risks that few of his contemporaries can. Though, the single most impressive quality of ‘The Lighthouse’ is its sound design. It would be difficult for me to put the sound — that consists of constant blaring horns of lighthouse, stormy ocean waves hitting the rocks, and hovering seagulls — in words. You will have to experience it to truly appreciate its brilliance. If ever it was possible to generate a feeling of claustrophobia using sound, ‘The Lighthouse’ manages to do that. Obviously, the close confines of dingy, small rooms inside lighthouse only worsens that feeling for you. 

There’s not much in terms of the plot of the film, except that it is about two lighthouse keepers who let their worst fears come true as they try to deal with loneliness, rough weather and most importantly, trust between each other. The film grips you with its atmosphere more than it does with its story, which barely is there anyway. The ending is shocking — and not surprising — and the very last scene might end up being your worst nightmare.

And finally, there are two more things that hugely works in the favor of the film: performances by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Dafoe is a veteran, so you would expect him to be brilliant in a film that has just two characters. But Robert Pattinson is a complete revelation in a role that is without a shred of doubt his best performance till date. In almost one-third of the film, there’s nobody on-screen expect Pattinson, the camera squarely on his face. And boy, does he get down and dirty! It’s a shame that he still might not make into the list of Best Actor Oscar nominees next year.

Rating: 3.5/5