Film shot in Nova Scotia 'a pleasure' to work on, says actor Willem Dafoe

Nova Scotians got to see their small province on the big screen Thursday night during a screening of The Lighthouse, the closing film at the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival.

The black-and-white psychological horror film, which is slated to come out in theatres next month, follows the story of two lighthouse keepers and their descent into insanity as they become consumed by their own solitude.

Actor Willem Dafoe, who stars in the film alongside Robert Pattinson, told CBC News that the film is "lots of things."

"It's a disintegration of when people are put in a position of uncertainty, and then you mix in a threat to their identity, and lots of alcohol, and it gets pretty scary for anybody, I think," he said.

Dafoe and the film's director, Robert Eggers, were in Halifax Thursday night for the film's Nova Scotia premiere.

The Lighthouse was largely filmed in Cape Forchu, N.S., a small fishing community in the province's Yarmouth County.

Many scenes were shot in the cold and rain — typical weather in the Maritimes. 

Dafoe said the setting played a huge role in the movie.

"The location really told us how things had to be played, what kind of story we were telling. It informed everything," he said. 

"And I enjoy that, because you have an experience that way, and it roots what you're doing."

The film had a "wonderful premiere" at the Cannes Film Festival in the spring, said Dafoe, and it was also shown to a "really enthusiastic crowd" at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month.

"It is in black-and-white. It's an unconventional format, but I think it really has gotten under people's skin," said Dafoe.

Screen Nova Scotia/Eric Chakeen

Eggers, who also directed the supernatural horror film The Witch, said he's glad the film is being warmly received.

"I'm shocked that the movie hasn't been more divisive thus far, because we're making a lot of strong choices.... The story and the filmmaking is over the top," he said. 

"And so I've been pleasantly surprised to see that not only have critics and festival audiences been receptive, but they've understood our intentions most of the time, which is incredibly gratifying and exciting."

Dafoe described the language in the film as "elevated and quite precise," and said everything they did was "very specific." 

He also said a lot of research went into the movie.

"As an actor, you always want a very clear direction to go in, and we certainly had that," he said. "It was a pleasure."

Once the filming was done, Dafoe said he was soon able to shake off the feelings of intense isolation.

"Yeah, I just found people. That's the trick" said Dafoe.

The Lighthouse will come out in theatres on Oct. 18.