Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse Looks Real Creepy and Real Maine-y

In The Lighthouse, a cinema auteur pits two grim keepers in a battle of wills on a harsh, uncanny Maine island.

Tower of Dour
Photograph courtesy of A24

A black-and-white psychological thriller about Maine lighthouse keepers driven to madness by isolation, supernatural storms, and a succubus mermaid? Where do we sign up? Indie director Robert Eggers grew up a few miles from the Maine border — and from the coast — in Lee, New Hampshire. He turned Hollywood heads in 2015 with his period horror flick The Witch (subtitled “A New England Folktale”), a Puritan-panic slow-burner that cost $4 million and earned $40 million after wowing (and creeping out) audiences at the Sundance Film Festival. This month’s follow-up, The Lighthouse, features Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as tortured rivals tending a nameless beacon — performances that have already garnered Oscar buzz. A few of director Eggers’s Maine-y influences:

Andrew Wyeth. Critics praised the muted, Wyeth-esque palette of the landscape in The Witch, all moody grays and browns, and although The Lighthouse was filmed in black-and-white, Eggers has said that the painter’s “archetypal New England” vision was central to the film.

Sarah Orne Jewett. Dafoe and Pattinson’s characters speak in stylized, 19th-century New England dialects the director says he borrowed from the pages of the Maine writer’s Tales of New England and Strangers and Wayfarers. “When you read Jewett’s work, the sea captains speak differently than the Down East farmers,” he says. “This is how we created dialogue for the movie.”

The Isles of Shoals. To film The Lighthouse, production designer Craig Lathrop and his crew built a functional, full-size lighthouse (on a bleak island in Nova Scotia), and Lathrop’s lighthouse Pinterest board includes several images of the Maine and New Hampshire archipelago and its 1859 beacon. “We made every possible effort to give all our buildings an iconic New England-ness,” Eggers says. “The style of our lighthouse is
an accurate depiction of a Maine lighthouse station near the turn of the century.”

 

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Down East Magazine, October 2019