One of the outliers in this year’s Oscar race is The Lighthouse, the sophomore feature film from Robert Eggers. His previous film, The Witch, is a near-masterpiece, but Eggers, like Ari Aster, makes films in the horror tradition, so the Academy blows them off. This year, Eggers’ destined-to-be-ignored film is The Lighthouse, which stars Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as a pair of lighthouse keepers who go mad - as all cinematic lighthouse keepers do. The Lighthouse got rave reviews at Cannes; it was selected as the top film of Cannes’ Critics Week and Director’s Fortnight. I was stoked to see The Lighthouse just based on The Witch, but the early buzz doesn’t hurt, and now we have a trailer that is completely bonkers.
Eggers comes from the world of production and costume design, so it’s no surprise that his films look extremely specific and lived-in. The Witch’s production design is so authentically antique, everyone looks itchy. The Lighthouse appears no different, though Eggers is invoking another era, a time of whaling ships and sailor’s superstition. The design here doesn’t appear itchy as much as crusty. Dafoe and Pattinson look like crusty sea-going types—I bet at least one of them has scurvy—and their clothes, hair, and overall environment looks crusted with salt. They’re alone on a tiny island, tending their lighthouse, and they look like the salt in the sea air is slowly mummifying them. I’m also super into the silent film aesthetic of The Lighthouse. Sure, they’re talking, but the black-and-white photography, the sort of stilted way they move, the jumpy editing, it all calls back to silent cinema. Those seascape shots look straight out of F.W. Murnau.
The horror slant of Eggers’ work is a detriment to the Oscar race, but this LOOKS so good—and it’s in black and white, which is an automatic +10 with the Academy—that The Lighthouse could be a factor in the cinematography and other craft races. But I am hard pressed to think, no matter how well it’s received, The Lighthouse will factor into the major races. Pattinson, like Leonardo DiCaprio before him, will have to work for actual decades to separate himself from his teen idol roots, and Dafoe, while an Academy favorite, is hamstrung by the whole horror thing. Like Midsommar before it, The Lighthouse looks incredible, but it also looks too genre for Oscar. A24 is going for it with a fall release date and festival push, but this is an uphill battle.