A24’s black and white character drama is positioned as an alternative to the blockbusters dominating theaters.
Writer/director Robert Eggers returns with this week’s The Lighthouse. The movie stars Willem Dafoe as Thomas, a veteran lighthouse keeper on a remote New England island in the 1890s who one day is joined by a younger assistant named Ephraim (Robert Pattinson). His arrival creates an odd partnership between the two as their days become filled with surreal visions, personal tension and other strange adventures and visions.
The campaign for the film has gone light on the story not because of a fear of spoilers like a Marvel Studios film but because the goal has been to create a tone and sense of mystery about the movie.
There’s little beyond the picture of a lighthouse out amidst the raging sea on the first poster (by marketing agency P+A), which shows off the movie’s black and white visuals. The one irregularity seen is the tail sticking out of the water in the foreground, while the unusual nature of the story is hinted at with the copy “There is enchantment in the light.”
August brought the release of the second poster which shows Ephraim and Thomas standing on either side of the lighthouse they man, the title and a series of positive quotes from early reviews placed between them.
The first trailer (4.2 million views on YouTube) was released at the end of July and immediately presents a unique look and feel for the movie with its black and white visuals and non-widescreen aspect ratio. Ephraim has come to the lighthouse to work and, it seems, to escape something in his past. Thomas is suspicious but the two are stuck with each other on a remote island, so some bonding is bound to take place. Still, there are hints that mysteries will be brought to light and that danger is lurking in the lighthouse as the movie is sold in a way akin to classic psychological horror films.
In September the second trailer (1.9 million views on YouTube) was released that continues showing the strange and shifting dynamic between the two men. It also introduces a few more mysteries into the story, including the circumstances under which Ephraim’s predecessor might have left his position.
Online and Social
The studio’s official website doesn’t have much that will add to anyone’s understanding of the film, just the basic information on the story and actors.
In a random, almost nonsensical move, A24 released an emoji pack for iMessage based on the movie and its characters, something that’s so strange for a black and while drama about two isolated men it’s kind of awesome.
Advertising and Publicity
Before the movie’s planned premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, A24 released a first photo showing Dafoe and Pattinson in order to set the tone and begin building buzz, with some critics positioning the movie and its cast as likely Oscar contenders. It went on to win multiple awards at the festival, adding to that buzz.
It was later announced among the films screening at the Toronto Film Festival, specifically in the “Special Presentations” section of the event.
Media and Press
The whole cast and crew appeared at Cannes, with Dafoe being interviewed about it and working with Pattinson. Eggers commented on the important role he sees for horror as a storytelling form and how he worked with the crew to realize the vision he and others had for the project.
Pattinson was the subject of a Variety cover story wherein he talked about this movie as well as a whole lot more from his past and future career. That, along with an interview with Eggers where he talked about how he approached the subject material, popped around the time the movie was in the middle of festival screenings.
More interviews with Pattinson allowed him to talk about the effect the restrained nature of the story had on him while Eggers shared what he thinks about making a movie that’s been labeled one of the most insane of the year. Eggers also talked about the research he did during the writing the story. Pattinson commented on the physical transformation he undertook for the role as well as how this part fits into his career as a whole. The production details, including modifications to handle the black and white film, were covered by Eggers.
There’s a real problem in Hollywood involving a lack of visual style. So many movies, even ones by talented directors and cinematographers, have a tendency to look the same because they’ve been wrung dry of uniqueness by corporate editing that needs to have everything appear as bland and generic as possible.
The campaign for The Lighthouse presents a movie serving as an antidote to that sameness. It’s not only an apparently wildly original story but one that’s told in a fashion unlike anything on screen in recent years. As much as the performances by Dafoe and Pattinson appear to be manic and unhinged, the visuals take that to another level by making the viewer slightly uncomfortable. That alone makes it a fascinating campaign for what appears to be a fascinating film.