Mark Korven’s experimental score to Robert Eggers’ sophomore film, “The Lighthouse” is both experimental and effectively terrifying.
Welcome to another installment of Exploring Soundtracks. After a short diversion, we’re back to bring some more horror to your cozy winter. Everyone knows winter is the best season for horror movies, so starting from here on out, we won’t be holding back. And there really isn’t a better soundtrack to start with than “The Lighthouse”. As Eggers’ sophomore film, it’s one that definitely lives up to the success of “The Witch”. Korven, who also composed the soundtrack to “The Witch”, brings a soundtrack that’s as unique and unusual as the film itself.
But before we get into the soundtrack to “The Lighthouse”, first here’s a brief synopsis of the film, for anyone who either hasn’t seen it, or just needs a quick refresher.
“The Lighthouse” is a 2019 psychological horror film directed by Robert Eggers. It follows the story of two mismatched lighthouse keepers (Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe), who fight each other trying to maintain their sanity and survival while living on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.
Before even the title appears on the black screen, the first thing you hear in “The Lighthouse” is Korven’s score. “Arrival” begins the film with ominous strings and dirge-like horns. Right away, the foreboding atmosphere is set. And if you couldn’t tell, “The Lighthouse” is a film that prioritizes atmosphere. One of the main ways it does this is through the score, which becomes a character in and of itself. A character that simultaneously gives us insight into the two isolated light keepers.
A good deal of the early film is spent establishing the characters of the two lighthouse keepers, accompanied mostly by silence. The score doesn’t pick up again until “Cistern / Old On Lens”, which utilizes growling horns, eerie, wavering tones, and various miscellaneous sounds that blend into the natural sounds of the lighthouse. The score continues to build along with the tension in “Swab Dog Swab / Seagull / Winslow’s Story”, with the more eerie tones coming out in tracks like, “Murder / Mermaid / Heavy Labour”, and “Stranded”.
One of the more interesting sounds heard in the film comes from the light. Eggers himself gives some insight into Korven’s approach. “To create the ethereal and monstrous sounds of the light itself, Mark experimented with the waterphone, glass harmonica, his famous Apprehension Engine – as well as friction mallets drawn across cymbals, wood, and glass.” These sounds permeate through the soundtrack, sometimes sitting just below the surface, other times front and center.
Aside from the light sounds, horns are the most frequently heard sounds in Korven’s score, most likely for their power in evoking sounds of the sea. The ominous foghorn can be heard throughout the soundtrack, or other musical appropriations of it, which has the effect of giving it a cohesive, yet unnatural quality.
Toward the end of the film, as the climax approaches, Korven’s score continually up the tension. Juxtaposed with periodic scenes with no music at all, tracks like “Why’d Ya Spill Yer Beans” and “Filthy Dog” bring the soundtrack to a heart-pounding point. The soundtrack concludes with “Into the Light”, in which all of the tension is released in a kind of eerie, unsettling catharsis.
It’s safe to say that without Mark Korven’s soundtrack, “The Lighthouse” would lose a lot of what makes it such a powerful film. The music fits perfectly with what we see on screen, and does a good job of revealing the unhinged minds of the light keepers. And at just 36 minutes long, it’s one you can easily listen to. Thought you might want to be careful and not listen to it too much. There’s no telling what it could do to your state of mind.
That about does it for today. I hope you enjoyed our discussion of Mark Korven’s original soundtrack to “The Lighthouse”. We’ll be back next week with a new soundtrack to explore.
If you’re looking for more music coverage, be sure to check out the LemonWire Music Corner, where we’re showcasing local Indianapolis artists.
1. “Arrival” (1:50)
2. “Sonovabitch” (3:32)
3. “Cistern / Old on Lens” (2:41)
4. “Swab Dog Swab / Seagull / Winslow’s Story” (3:23)
5. “Curse Your Name / Dirty Weather” (3:48)
6. “Murder / Mermaid / Heavy Labour” (2:38)
7. “Stranded” (2:19)
8. “The Sea King’s Fury” (2:59)
9. “Mermaid Lust / Stabbing the Charm” (2:35)
10. “Why’d Ya Spill Your Beans?” (2:34)
11. “Filthy Dog” (3:21)
12. “The Light Belongs to Me” (1:14)
13. “Into the Light” (3:32)