BEACON of HORROR
Starburst Magazine|February 2020
Filmmaker ROBERT EGGERS on his latest movie, ‘Two Guys in a Giant Phallus’ (aka THE LIGHTHOUSE)...
Laura Potier

It was four years ago that Robert Eggers burst onto the indie film scene with his directorial debut and supernatural period horror, The Witch. Now back with one of the year’s best and weirdest films, The Lighthouse cements Eggers’ place alongside Ari Aster and Jordan Peele as one of this generation’s great horror directors.

A dizzying tale of supernatural horror and madness, The Lighthouse follows two lighthouse keepers in 1890s New England during a four-week stay tending to the isolated island’s beacon. Thomas and Ephraim, played by the ever-excellent Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, steadily descend into a special brand of paranoid, sex-crazed, and booze-fuelled cabin fever.

Eggers’ unmatched attention to detail and uncompromised vision make for a sensory and psychological trip you’re unlikely to forget, for better or for worse. On an appropriately cold, grey, and drizzly London morning, STARBURST sat down with the director to discuss the making of his sophomore feature…

STARBURST: We read that your idea for this film started out simply as: ‘a ghost story in a lighthouse’. Can you tell us about the development from that to the finalized film?

Robert Eggers: Well, that was my brother’s idea and that, for me, spawned the visual atmosphere of the movie. You know, the black and white 35mm, the Guernsey jumpers, the whole thing, and you learn more and it becomes more specific as you move forward. But more or less, I saw it like that, and then it was just about figuring out, “Well, what’s the story?” So we start reading about ghost stories and lighthouses, and lighthouse tragedies, and around day two, I found the story of Smalls Lighthouse in Wales from 1801 – it had two lighthouse keepers, both named Thomas, one was older and one younger, and they got marooned in their lighthouse station. And the old one died, the young one went mad – that basically seemed like a good story. And to some degree, I didn’t take it any further than that!

Do you think that the ghost’s presence still exists in that story?

I’m more interested in demons and my brother’s more interested in ghosts. And I think that the mermaid and some other elements are maybe more like demons than ghosts, but there are some things that are shared between the two. There’s a lot of very serious occultists who, in that time when spiritualism was very popular, were going around saying that what these spiritualists were doing was really dangerous, because they thought that they were talking to the ghosts of their dead loved ones, when really they were conjuring demons who are pretending to be ghosts. So, there’s some nerdy information for the audience [laughs].

As mentioned, you co-wrote this with your brother Max. How did collaborating on a screenplay compare to writing it yourself, like you did with 2015’s The Witch?

They’re both satisfying in different ways. Right now, I’m really enjoying having a co-writer. I’ve had an incredibly fun time with my brother, and now I’m working with this Icelandic novelist and poet, Sjón, which is also incredibly fun, but I do look forward to one day writing something by myself again. But the great thing about working with a collaborator is that you’re constantly boosting the other person. You know, you’ll get this scene, and you’re like, what if we just tweak it like this, or like that. That’s exciting, and it creates a kind of joy that I don’t quite know of otherwise.

You’ve also often talked about how much you love the research aspect of preproduction, learning about the folklore behind settings, etc. Do you think that when you thoroughly research your films, is that more out of a desire for personal satisfaction, or do you believe it works to heighten the story?

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