Leah Jade Wimpenny takes a look at Chris Crow’s intense and claustrophobic film The Lighthouse about a pair of stranded lighthouse keepers gradually losing their sanity.
This review contains spoilers.
The Lighthouse follows the rapidly deteriorating human psyche of two men trapped as the protectors of a lighthouse 25 miles from habited land in the middle of the Irish Sea. Throughout we are met with an intense intimacy led by director Chris Crow’s dynamic vision that offers a lingering claustrophobia which is as unsettling as it is chilling. Echoing the real life tragedy of 1801 at Smalls Island Lighthouse, Crow’s film is sobering and unforgiving, potentially turning off audiences unprepared for its bleak approach.
Unfortunately, I did not fall into the category of someone who found this a particularly enjoyable film. While perhaps it does not set out to be enjoyable the entire concept ran rather dry, at least for the first half. The film aims to uncover the hidden demons that lurk within Thomas Griffiths (Mark Lewis Jones) and Thomas Howell (Michael Jibson) once they are left to their own sanity and the sanity of one another as they keep watch over a lighthouse.
The inner demons in turn lead to their disastrous end as a freak storm hits leaving them stranded with no hope of being saved. While one man looks to his faith in God in the hope of being saved from his hell the other despises the concept and is bitter in his fear of death. Faith against atheism builds up a fair amount of conversation between the two that seems to take up a large portion of the film.
The character development itself is quite good yet the cast is limited, not helped by the equally limited setting, which while a good reminder of just how isolated these men are is perhaps not the best in terms of captivating the audience. To attempt such a film with so little is brave and in this sense the film does well, it captures the notions of sanity successfully and shows how humanity can crumble under the pressures of isolation but as a cinematic piece it sadly failed to be something memorable and often came across fairly dull.
Crow enjoys challenging the audience by removing them from their comfort zone, the troubled protagonists lead us into a complete lack of security that doesn’t even blink through the film’s progression. There is no light for either Thomas in the film, despite the huge beacon that is the lighthouse overlooking everything that goes on, the film is tense but the tension is slow, placid and very low key. The film does not offer the suspense of the average thriller but at the same time Crow has cleverly developed a movie in the thriller genre that does not rely on cheapness or tricks and truly focuses on actor skill and storyline to build the tension the narrative requires, even if this tension fails to keep hold of attention at points.
The plot is dark, disquieting and at times frightful that dips its toes into the heart of madness and then dives straight in with no hope of return. Both men have been touched by the cruel tricks of life by the time they reach the lighthouse and once they realise their chances of survival are limited things take a turn for the worse. Crow certainly explores the notions of what can take a man to the very edge of his being and beyond, the nightmare like plot has us thinking how on earth we could survive in such a horrifying circumstance but this mainly takes shape in the last quarter of an hour of the film where repetition of haunting messages and the true collapse of sanity has taken over Jibson while Griffiths hangs from the lighthouse after the storm has forced him to take his life. The general consensus of the film itself is haunting but I found this this took a little too long to truly take impact.
The boldness of the film means at times it is mercilessly grim and in turn is certainly not one that will be everyone’s cup of tea. The acting is done rather beautifully and we can truly believe these men are on the verge of crumbling, made all the more hard hitting by the fact they represent the lives of real people. The film itself is demanding, for those who are willing to embrace the cruel and brittle harshness of the plot I imagine it would be an intensely enjoyable adventure into the psychology of two men at the true breaking point of life but sadly for me it did not live up to expectation. The story I could appreciate but I felt it would have a more memorable place on stage rather than on screen.
Written by Leah Jade Wimpenny
Directed by: Chris Crow
Written by: Paul Bryant, Chris Crow
Starring: Michael Jibson, Mark Lewis Jones, Ian Virgo
Released: 2016 / Genre: Drama
Country: UK / IMDB
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Top 10 Films reviewed The Lighthouse on DVD which was released on October 31, 2016 in the UK.