The Lighthouse is written and directed by Chris Crow and retells the story of the Smalls Island lighthouse incident in 1801 which altered the way lighthouses were run from that moment until their automation in the 1980s
Built in 1775-76, it is a ramshackle-like structure that belies the strength needed to stand strong against the bitter winds and stormy weather. Sturdy wooden stilts hold the structure up and keep it upright in even the most extreme of weather but nothing like the concrete structures of today.
As was customary of the time, two men were stationed at the lighthouse for a stretch of time to keep it functioning. The latest shift for Smalls Island was to be Thomas Griffiths (Mark Lewis Jones) and Thomas Howell (Michael Jibson), two very distinct types of men: Griffiths is a hard drinking brawler of a man, rough around the edges and giving not two damns for anyone but is also the more experienced lighthouse keeper; Howells on the other hand is a god-fearing gentleman, meek in nature and unsure of his place. Both of the central performances here are really good, especially Lewis Jones as the belligerent Griffiths.
All is tense within the lighthouse to begin with as the two men are unaccustomed to sharing the confined space, especially with their personalities being at complete odds. Most of this early section is entirely dialogue-less as these two men skirt around each other, keeping to themselves as much as they can. Eventually, through the medium of chess, they find a commonality that brings them closer and lessens the tension between them.
Coming out of this newfound kinship their stories get told, their histories and their reasons for their personalities being just so: Griffiths recants the losing of his wife and child to sickness, Howell telling his story of being held responsible for the death of six other men at the South Bishop lighthouse and how he has tried to repent ever since.
Eventually the onset of an almighty storm means that they are both trapped in this measly lighthouse space for longer than expected and planned for. An initial one month stint drags out to four months and, as the supplies run low so does the morale of those trapped on this barren isle. An accident, or maybe the result of imbibing too much of the recently found stash of alcohol, robs Griffith of his life and Howell, fearing for being blamed for this death as well as the previous ones, decides to keep the body instead of allowing it to be taken by the sea. One coffin constructed later, it is lashed to the side of the lighthouse, with Griffith inside.
Howell’s slow descent into madness is enhanced by the lack of sustenance being replaced by the alcohol stash, squirrelled away by the builders of the lighthouse (as they had also suffered a period of time isolated on that cursed rock). With only the companionship of his dead colleague, Howells loses his grip on reality and eventually believes his dead colleague is beckoning him to join him from his final resting place hanging outside the lighthouse.
The Lighthouse is claustrophobic at times, isolated from the rest of the world in this barren place, just a rock sticking out of the wild seas. The interaction between the men is slow to come but even when it does there are still issues between them, coming from differing lifestyles and past experiences. The tension between the two men never reaches a level that manages to get across to the audience the conflict between them, the way that the story is shown on screen also lacks some of the distress and utter hopelessness that these two fellows surely felt.
The depicted onset of delirium in Howell is fairly well done, slipping between fantasy and real life, leaving you wondering which is which and what is happening for real and which is in his head. The slow gradient works well and Howell does a really good job of portraying it, alongside his desperation.
Overall it is an interesting story, based on historic truth that lead to a real change in behaviour going forward. If they could have taken a bit more time to build up the depth of the characters it would have given the audience more concern for their wellbeing and their outcome. And if that could have been put alongside a greater emphasis on the effects of the isolation and the loneliness on top of the supposed harassment by Howell’s already-passed colleague Griffiths it would have changed the atmosphere in The Lighthouse to a more effective horror or thriller style film, which would have suited it better. At present it feels more like a historic retelling or a dramatisation of the events of that time but without any of the relevant details that would make it more interesting.