PrintE-mail Written by Paul Mount

Inspired by a real-life tragedy which occurred in 1801 at the Smalls Island lighthouse miles off the coast of West Wales, The Lighthouse is the latest feature from director Chris Crow who impressed with sturdy calling card movies Panic Button (edgy social media thriller) and Devil’s Bridge (brutal survivalist horror). The Lighthouse, however, whilst it shares the potentially claustrophobic predominantly single setting format of Panic Button, is an entirely different proposition to any of Crow’s other movies. This is a much more intimate, stifling and uncomfortable experience, a true psychological horror story made all the more chilling and effective because of its roots in a half-forgotten folk tale (albeit one which resulted in fundamental changes to the way lighthouses operated thereafter – until full automation in 1980 lighthouses were always manned by three keepers).

It’s the beginning of the 19th century and life doesn’t look too rosy for Thomas Howell (Jibson) and Thomas Griffiths (Jones) when they are posted to ‘keep the light’ at a wooden-framed lighthouse on a tiny island off the Welsh coast. On arrival they’re told “she don’t want us here...and neither do these bastard rocks.” The pair, both grizzled and battered by time and, as we discover, personal tragedy, settle into their mundane existence at the lighthouse but their fortunes take a turn for the worse when a ferocious – supernatural? – storm whips up, throwing the cold and wild waters of the Irish Sea at the beleaguered lighthouse. The storm goes on and on but their rations are running low and there’s no hope of rescue as the storm rages furiously.

What follows is a dark and disquieting journey into the heart of madness and despair as the pair’s circumstances become even bleaker and terrible. Both men bear the scars of lives touched by death and perhaps they’ve come to the island as a penance and as a way to escape the crushing unending darkness of their lives. Crow’s movie is an exploration of what drives a man to the edge – and beyond – and as events unfold we’re plunged into a nightmare world where reality and unreality are never far apart and where, sometimes, the horrifying is much more terrifying than the horrific.

The Lighthouse is a bold, demanding film and by its very nature, it’s not likely to find favour with everyone. It’s mercilessly grim, its lead characters are taciturn and troubled and there’s no light and shade here in a story which appears to offer little more than two stern men glaring and shouting angrily at each other across a very small room. Beautifully played by the always-reliable Mark Lewis Jones and Crow regular Jibson (who also had a hand in the script), The Lighthouse is never less than a tense, immersive experience, deftly and cleanly realised by Crow, with effects so subtle they barely register as effects at all. In an entirely different league to so much of today’s cheap, derivative horror fodder (and there’s a case to be made that it isn’t really a horror film at all), The Lighthouse is a welcome beacon of quality in a genre often happy to rely on cheap tricks and easy scares and offers so much more, amply rewarding those who are willing to embrace its blunt and brittle world.



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0 #1 Alfie malfie 2016-11-11 17:32
Great on gnashing of teeth, wailing and long silences; not so good on verisimilitude. Why did no one do any research on what a real Pembrokeshire storm is like? The wind direction they keep blathering on about in the lighthouse logs would create little more than a ripple on the sea.
And in a real storm 25 mile out to sea they'd never have been able to hear each other wail let alone endured long silences

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