Robert Eggers may only have two feature films under his belt, but he is one of the most exciting filmmakers on the rise. Despite only being 37 years old, he has already received numerous awards, and his films have been well received by critics and audiences alike. Prior to filmmaking, Eggers began his career as a theatrical director and designer in New York. He transitioned to film production in 2009, and served as production designer for 16 films. As soon as he took the plunge and made his directorial debut, he took the horror genre by storm.
Many people, myself included, have credited Eggers for ushering in the return of arthouse horror to the masses. His films masterfully blend history and myth with an overwhelming sense of dread. Paranoia, madness, and isolation are the true horror that plagues the human mind, and Eggers’ films The Witch and The Lighthouse are proof that no era is free from these terrors.
The Witch (2015)
I stand by my belief that The Witch is quite possibly the strongest directorial debut of the 2010s. Inspired by his childhood in New England and a long standing interest in witches, Eggers’ 2015 period horror film is a portrait of Puritan fear in 17th century America. Then-unknown Anya Taylor-Joy stars as Thomasin, the oldest daughter of an English settler family recently banished from their colony. Already the scapegoat of the family, two of her siblings disappear and the remaining two accuse her of witchcraft. Life escalates into a nightmare as her parents William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) fall deeper into their religious fear and paranoia.
Eggers performed extensive research to achieve the film’s historical accuracy. Costume designer Linda Muir created costumes with materials used at the time, and Eggers hired carpenters to build a historically correct house for the set. At some points, it’s genuinely hard to understand what is being said due to the historically correct accents used by the actors, especially for William. The meticulous detail thoroughly impressed and entertained me. I was fully enveloped in the world, which made the ending all the more chilling. If not for the witchcraft, this film could be a 16th century slice of life. However, the power of witchcraft consumes these settlers’ lives, testing their faith in God and each other. The ominous and sometimes graphic depictions of this power kept me hooked through the film’s menacing conclusion.
The Lighthouse (2019)
Eggers’ second film was intended to be an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s final work “The Light-House”, and although Eggers and his brother Max (co-writer of the film) scrapped this idea the resulting film is just as disturbing as any Poe story. Another period horror, this time set in the 19th century, The Lighthouse shows two lighthouse keepers’ descent into madness. Filmed in a nearly square aspect ratio and entirely black and white, this film was also developed with great attention paid to historical fidelity. In fact, it was even shot using a film lens from the 1930s.
Just as soon as I thought I knew what was happening in The Lighthouse, the film began its full descent into chaos. The film enveloped me in the madness slowly, and by the time I reached the end I felt just as trapped and lost as Robert Pattinson’s character Ephraim Winslow. I lost my sense of time, and from there reality and dark fantasy blurred. The claustrophobic, lonely world that Winslow and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) inhabit successfully hypnotized me like the constant spinning of a lighthouse’s lantern.
Currently Eggers is working on a film titled The Northman, a revenge thriller set in 10th century Iceland. Filming ended in December 2020, so hopefully a release date will be available soon. Reportedly Eggers has also been developing a remake of the 1922 silent horror film Nosferatu, though no news has been released in regards to it since 2016.
In just two feature films Robert Eggers has already earned almost universal acclaim. His dedication to research and ability to create an atmosphere that is both accurate and unnerving make him a prime candidate for “next greatest filmmaker of our time”. Whatever may lie ahead for Robert Eggers, I’ll be there day one to watch the future of horror unfold before my eyes.