There will be sharks at the end of the film.
- Jossed. We get seagulls, crabs, lobsters, and even a mermaid, but no sharks to be seen.
The lighthouse is cursed by pirates.
- Mostly Jossed. A curse is brought up, but pirates aren't involved and it's somewhat ambiguous whether it's real at all.
At least one of the lighthouse keepers will die.
- Confirmed. By the end of the film, both are dead.
The film is a Cosmic Horror Story.
- The two men are at the lighthouse to keep watch over a Lovecraftian monster and are slowly driven mad by the monster over the course of the story.
- Sort of; while the film's plot doesn't contain these specific points, it does have many elements of Lovecraftian horror (tentacles and all). In particular, Winslow's reaction to seeing the inside of the light just screams Go Mad from the Revelation.
Thomas Wake survived the events of the film.
- Ephraim was hallucinating that he murdered Thomas with the ax. Earlier in the film he hallucinated Thomas chasing him with an ax and raving madly and when Ephraim seemingly kills him Thomas acts in a similar manner and has no dirt on him from having been buried alive. Thomas likely fell unconscious while being buried alive and wasn't dead when Ephraim dug him out of the dirt to recover the keys to the lighthouse. Later, he woke up, went to the lighthouse and found Ephraim badly injured from his fall down the lighthouse stairs. As punishment for his treatment towards Thomas, his theft of the lighthouse keys and his killing of the seagull Thomas then dragged Ephraim outside to be pecked to death by the gulls. This goes well with the Prometheus symbolism where Zeus actively chose to punish Prometheus for stealing fire by having his insides pecked out by birds. We also know Thomas has a taste for colorful and excessive punishments from the creative retributions he wishes on Ephraim after he insults Thomas's cooking so this feels in keeping with his character.
The reason Ephraim is screaming when he looks in the lighthouse's light is because he is trying to hold it and the heat from the lamp is burning his arms.
- When he is looking into the lamp neither of his arms are in view and its consistent with his obsession with the light that he would try to touch it and then continue to hold it even as it burnt his arms.
Wake murdered his previous assistant, whose soul is in the one-eyed seagullAt one point, Winslow fishes out of the water the severed head of a stranger with only one eye still intact. Earlier in the film, Wake told Winslow that seagulls carry the souls of dead sailors — now recall that the seagull that harassed Winslow only had one eye. Possibly Wake either directly killed his previous assistant, or at least drove him to his Sanity Slippage and death with his unpleasant personality. That assistant's soul was captured by the gull. When Winslow arrived to be his replacement, the one-eyed gull was trying to warn him off the island to save him from falling to the same fate, which is why the gull is so unnaturally aggressive and ignored all Winslow's attempts to scare him off (which would've worked on a normal gull). Tragically, Winslow snaps and kills the gull instead, either invoking a curse or causing the murdered man's spirit to seek revenge on them both by driving Winslow to kill Wake and then causing Winslow's death as well. Wake being responsible for his previous assistant's death would also draw parallels with him and "Winslow"/Howard, who either killed or at least let the real Winslow die. This would give them having the same first name more meaning.
Wake is a serial killerHe deliberately drives his assistants mad by gaslighting them. Unfortunately for him Howard is already unstable and either a murderer or almost-murderer already who reacts violently.
Winslow was Dead All AlongThe ending scene is reminiscent of Prometheus, punished for his theft of fire by being bound to a rock and an eagle eating his liver everyday. After "stealing" the light from the lighthouse, Winslow falls down the lighthouse stairs, is paralyzed, and seagulls feast on his intestines while he's still conscious. It would complete the parallel if Winslow is a spirit stuck in some sort of loop, forced to relive his time on the island and his horrific death, over and over again. To add to that, Winslow is seen to have lost one of his eyes in the last scene. If we accept the background to the "Wake murdered his previous assistant, whose soul is in the one-eyed seagull" WMG above, then the repetition of the one-eyed seagull, the dead assistant's one-eyed head, and the one-eyed Winslow must mean Winslow IS the previous assistant, forced to work forever for the man he despises without consciously remembering the truth. The seagull and the head represent the memories he can't or doesn't want to remember. Him finally seeing the light in the end symbolizes him remembering the truth and realizing his situation, much to his own horror.
Wake was Dead All Along... or at least part of the way through. This is why he doesn't resist at all when being Buried Alive by Winslow, and then makes an Unexplained Recovery to attack Winslow with an axe. There are two variations for this theory:
- Yes, Wake was Dead All Along. The Wake that Winslow deals with throughout the film is a ghost.
- Wake started the film as a real living man, but was dead after Winslow finds his body on the lighthouse, gets attacked by "Neptune", and tries to flee the island. Whether the Wake that appears after this is Wake's real ghost, Winslow's hallucination, or perhaps some illusion made by another entity, is up to the viewer.
The island is a Hell-like dimension where Wake and Winslow are both suffering for eternityFrom the moment the two men set foot in the island, there was this air that something was not right, from scene one. The boat taking the two there could be a reference to Charon's boat that crosses the dead to their place in Hell, for one, given all the Greek Myth parallels. Wake is either suffering himself for killing his previous assistant, or a form taken by the hellscape to torment Winslow personally, also taking on the form of the mermaid and the real Ephraim to continuously remind him of his killing and identity theft. Seeing the light causes Winslow to realize where he is and what his ultimate fate will be for all of eternity, which explains the final scene: it's his due for murder. Would also explain all the seagulls flying around, containing the souls of sailors and lighthouse workers alike. They're there to service the hell realm.
Winslow really did like Wake's cookingAnd he said he hated it to mess with his head.
There was no enchantment in the light.It was an average light and Winslow was yelling from the realization he went mad and killed Thomas for nothing and the pain of the incredibly hot light burning his hand.
Winslow really is wandering around the Canadian wilderness.And the whole movie is his Dying Dream.
There was no other Ephraim Winslow.This is a false memory, just another part of Winslow's madness. He wants to feel either guilty, pitied upon, or otherwise somewhat justified in taking the job, so he invents a story about him having some old identity which he's hiding.
It was falling while painting that caused Winslow brain damage and to detach himself from reality.The only "strange" event before that is easily explainable as a mere dream inspired by the setting.