It’s said that man isn’t meant to be alone, not for long periods at least, it’s the isolation, does strange things to the mind.
The Lighthouse tackles that subject by taking a true story from 1801 involving a change in law around British lighthouses. Stick with me, it gets better.
Two lighthouse keepers, Thomas Griffiths, Mark Lewis Jones (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Child 44), a bare-knuckle fighter with a tragic past and Thomas Howell, Michael Jibson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Beauty And The Beast), a god-fearing, quiet man, take possession of their latest keep, a wooden lighthouse on a barren, rock island.
25 miles from the mainland, the two must keep the light on until the takeover can arrive. Usually, this isn’t a problem, but this time round, a freak storm blows in making any possibility of people rowing to the barren island an impossibility.
As we learn more about the two men, we realise they know each other, in fact, everyone knows Howell. He’s the man who fell asleep on a watch, his first on an island, causing the light to go out and a ship to crash onto the shore, sinking and killing all six men on board.
As the storm outside worsens, the two men become worried. Rations are becoming low, including drinking water and food. Griffiths takes matters into his own hands by finding some old liquor stash and making good headway into it.
This makes Griffiths angry, very angry, whilst Howell gets more and more nervous. When tragedy strikes, leaving Howell alone for months awaiting help, he slowly descends into despair, hearing things, seeing things. As long as he doesn’t believe them, as long as he can keep his wits, as long as he can keep the light on.
The Lighthouse is directed by Chris Chow (Panic Button, Devil’s Bridge) who also writes along with Paul Bryant (Quest For The Beast (Short)) and Michael Jibson.
Chow keeps things dark and creaky. Despite the modest budget you can sense the must and damp conditions. The writers work wonders with the story, a small criticism might be that you don’t quite get the sense months have passed.
As Howell descends into madness we see shades of Edgar Allen Poe, only it’s the tap, tap, tapping of a hand on a window that drives Howell to madness whilst the voices we hear sound almost poetic in their madness.
What really makes The Lighthouse though, is the performances of the two leads. Both Jones and Jibson are at the top of their game.
It’s Jones who shines for the majority of the film. A tormented figure, full of anger and sadness, he rages against god and ‘the good book’ to which Howell clings.
During this time Jibson is meek, downtrodden. He barely says a word in the opening half of the film, finally having his say as Jones turns to the bottle.
Jibson almost turns into Jones after the tragedy, echoing his movements and his phrasing, it’s a remarkable turnaround. He then becomes his own man as the madness grips him further and he tries his best to get a grip of himself.
The Lighthouse tells the true story of the Smalls Lighthouse tragedy. After this event it was deemed that lighthouse crews should be a minimum of three people until they were fully automated in 1980.
Sadly, Thomas Howell never recovered from his ordeal at Smalls. Thankfully, we’re fully recovered from watching The Lighthouse, but those performances will stick with us for a long time.