'The Lighthouse': Film Review

Tensely atmospheric.

Two men become increasingly desperate while manning a remote lighthouse in Chris Crow's thriller based on real-life events.

Viewers may well experience a sense of claustrophobia themselves while watching Chris Crow's psychological thriller about two men descending into madness while manning a remote lighthouse. Based on real-life events, The Lighthouse depicts its dramatic situations in credible and compelling fashion. But its single, cramped setting and leisurely pacing could definitely tax the patience of horror fans looking for a more visceral, scare-laden experience.

Nominated for five BAFTA awards including best picture, the film is based on a real-life tragedy that occurred at Smalls Lighthouse in 1801. Located on a barren, rocky island 25 miles off the coast of Wales, the structure was manned by two men, Thomas Griffith (Mark Lewis Jones) and Thomas Howell (Michael Jibson), his younger, newly assigned co-worker.

"She don't want us here," Griffith tells his new companion about the rough-churning ocean. "Neither do these bastard rocks." From the beginning, the two men are at odds, with Griffith, a former bare-knuckle fighter, indulging in heavy drinking and copious profanity while the religious-minded, mild-mannered Howell desperately tries to keep out of his way. When Howell temporarily escapes the confines of the tiny lighthouse to go fishing, Griffiths informs him that if he's spotted he'll be immediately canned.

The two men do form a bond of sorts, one created by their lingering guilt over past events. Griffith's involves the loss of his wife and daughter, while Howell despairs over his role in an accident at his former outpost that resulted in the deaths of six sailors.

When a freak storm prevents the arrival of fresh supplies, the two men find themselves more and more desperate as their food and water begin to run out. Griffith increasingly takes solace in drink, thanks to his discovery of a secret stash of liquor, while Howell sinks further and further into despair. By the time a freak accident occurs, one man has died and the other has effectively lost his mind.

The filmmaker, whose previous credits include the well-received Panic Button and Devil's Bridge, does an excellent job of illustrating the physical hardships and psychological demons afflicting the two characters, with the lighthouse itself registering as a vivid onscreen presence thanks to Dim Dickel's excellent production design. The relentlessly oppressive, storm-plagued atmosphere is so vividly rendered it's not surprising that the film won a BAFTA award for its visual effects despite its obvious low budget. Alex Metcalfe's dark, dreary photography, while admittedly a trial to endure, well befits the gloomy setting.

The film also benefits immeasurably from the powerful performances by Jones and Jibson, the latter of whom also collaborated on the screenplay. Their intense turns are admirably free of vanity, making their less-than-likable characters feel authentic.

And yet, The Lighthouse still feels like a slog at times due to the all too realistic depiction of the boredom and repetition that inevitably figures in the story. A case could be made that the material would have been better served in a theatrical setting where its claustrophobic aspects and psychological complexities could have been more effectively conveyed.

Production: Dogs of Annwn
Distributor: Uncork'd Entertainment
Cast: Michael Jibson, Mark Lewis Jones, Gerald Tyler, Jason May, Ian Vigo, Joshua Richards, Nathan Sussex, Stephen McDade, Charles Curran, Greg Mothersdale
Director: Chris Crow
Screenwriters: Chris Crow, Michael Jibson, Paul Bryan
Producer: David Lloyd
Executive producers: Edward Fletcher, Paul Higgins, Steve Jenkins, Gwawr Martha Lloyd, Adam Partridge
Director of photography: Alex Metcalfe
Production designer: Tim Dickel
Editor: John Gillanders
Composer: Mark Rutherford
Costume designer: Sian Jenkins

102 minutes