In my series where I look at the emerging directors this century, it was only matter of time before I discuss the work of horror director Robert Eggers. Usually associated with his A24 cohort Ari Aster, Eggers’ two films are psychological studies of its characters with a darker colour palette than Aster’s work. His 2015 debut The VVitch was an instant success and a major talking point among the film community on release. There hadn’t been a film quite like it and it’s unapologetic take on the breakdown of a family. His 2019 film The Lighthouse couldn’t be more different. Whereas The VVitch was full of female empowerment and the emergence of a strong young woman finding her place in the world, The Lighthouse is heavily masculine and becomes a double character study rather than the spotlight being on a single character. The overall style of Eggers’ films is a perfect mix of gritty realism with a hint of fantasy and magic. Despite the unrealistic elements, the films are definitely grounded in their realism and the audience reaction is unaffected.
Both of his films were distributed by A24 and are currently discussed alongside Ari Aster’s films Hereditary and Midsommar as they are A24 and horror as well but Aster and Eggers have completely different angles. If anything, each film is a great example of how horror has becoming the best genre to look at current topical issues. I have written on Aster which can be read here and recommend watching his films but here are my mini reviews for Robert Eggers’ films The VVitch and The Lighthouse.
The VVitch (2015)
Eggers’ debut was talked about a lot on release because of its unrelenting dismantling of the family home. Following Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), a young girl on the verge of womanhood struggling with her place in the family home after they are banished to fend for themselves after rejecting a Puritan colony. The family are then convinced there is a witch causing mayhem and won’t stop until the entire unit is killed. Starting with the baffling disappearance of her baby brother, Samuel after playing peekaboo with him, Eggers isn’t afraid of tackling taboos that even classical horrors don’t dare venture. Critics were more favourable towards the film whereas audiences weren’t as convinced although it was still a success at the box office. I think that because it was marketed as a straightforward horror, audiences weren’t expecting the many layers that this film has. It is more about Thomasin’s characterisation than the gruesome death scenes or jump scares. Taylor-Joy is nothing short than spectacular as Thomasin and brings that juxtaposition between childlike innocence and the more adult curiousity. She feeds into the fear to her twin brother and sister innocently at the beginning but then the more sinister intentions underlying the film begin to creep out. It’s definitely a horror film for the 21st century and helped to pave the way for more horrors that have intricate character studies. The VVitch could be viewed as a film exploring female empowerment and rejecting the traditional patriarchal society.
The Lighthouse (2019)
One of the most anticipated films of 2019, The Lighthouse stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as warring lighthouse keepers, Winslow and Wake, respectively, who are stranded on an island during the storm. It’s not a horror in the traditional sense but the rising tension and characters’ waning sanity are the perfect combination to making one of the best horrors in recent years. Pattinson and Dafoe are pretty much the only characters for the majority of the film with Valeriia Karaman making an appearance as the Mermaid who seduces Winslow. The Lighthouse is a film unlike any other nevermind a horror film unlike any other. FIlmed in black and white 1.19:1 aspect ratio, the film is reminiscent of a claustrophobic vintage horror, reflective of the era it is trying to portray. Loosely based on the short story “The Light-House” by Edgar Allen-Poe, Eggers and his brother Max Eggers worked the script to a late 19th century setting and wanted to keep the focus on the deterioation of its male protagonists. I have written a more in-depth review of The Lighthouse which can be read here. Every aspect of this film is perfect from the casting to the writing to the set design. It was nominated for one Academy Award for Best Cinematography which was very well-deserved but I really feel that it should have been nominated for more, especially Willem Dafoe for Best Supporting Actor. Dafoe consistently brings his A game and the fact that The Lighthouse is among his best says a lot.
Eggers is currently working on his upcoming project The Northman which will star mega stars like Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgard as well as reuniting the director with Anya Taylor-Joy and Willem Dafoe so needless to say there are high expectations. From what I can tell, this new film will be the first Eggers film not to be distributed by A24 as 20th Century Studios have locked it in which shows the faith the big budget studios have in him. Hopefully the studio will give him the freedom to follow his vision through like A24 do. There is no doubt that Eggers has a hugely exciting future ahead of him in the film industry and it will be interested to see what else he comes up with.
Which Robert Eggers is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below!