Image from Vox.
The Lighthouse spoilers ahead!
The horror genre has long been polarizing. While some, like myself, revel in the discomfort it induces, others would rather skip the fear in favor of a more pleasant film viewing or book reading experience. If that sounds like you, that’s okay. I understand that horror isn’t for everyone, but I also think it’s a beautiful and thought-provoking vehicle for self and societal introspection if done well.
Horror has its roots in Gothic fiction of the 18th and 19th centuries. Consider stories like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or stories about “the other.” (This article from Horror Film History discusses the literary origins of the genre in more detail.) Here is where horror saw its beginnings as a genre that examines the natural human fear of the unknown in its various forms. Through the genre, we have been able to explore and work through individual and societal concerns.
To me, horror is a tool for facing real problems through a fictional lens, making them more easily digestible and easier to analyze. For example, Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse seems at first glance to concern itself with two men descending into madness and losing themselves in the throws of isolation (sound familiar?), but it also references the stories of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and sparked intelligent life in humanity, and Proteus, the archetypal old man who guards knowledge he’s unwilling to share with anyone.
With these in mind, The Lighthouse becomes a cautionary tale of undeserved knowledge that is too much to handle. Ephraim, determined to find out what secrets the light in the lighthouse contains, takes a peek against Thomas’ wishes and finds himself blinded, incapable of handling the information, and punished. Through disturbing imagery and a suffocating aspect ratio, the film explores the idea of humanity’s acquisition of knowledge, which to me is a reflection of our technological advancements, without concern for the implications and consequences of said knowledge. It warns us to be cautious and ensure preparedness.
Horror is a visually stunning, thematically compelling genre of self-discovery and necessary discomfort. Think about it this way — how else can we evaluate what’s wrong in our society without feeling uncomfortable? Yes, horror can be disturbing and anxiety-inducing, but after the film is gone and we have worked through our worry and fear, there is a release, both mental and physical.
It’s relieving, cathartic.
If you can’t handle horror, that’s okay, just make sure you’re still thinking critically about your own fears and societal concerns. But if this has changed your mind or sparked curiosity about the genre, give it another try.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll like it.
Do you like horror?