The Lighthouse (2018) REVIEW – Masterful Claustrophobic Filmmaking
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Directed by Chris Crow, The Lighthouse starts us off on pretty even ground. The premise is straightforward. Two men, Thomas Griffith (Mark Lewis Jones) and Thomas Howell (Michael Jibson) are entrusted with the task of looking after a lighthouse that sits on a small island some twenty-five miles off the coast of Wales.
The work involved in keeping this lighthouse is lonely (the two men have only each other for company, and they don’t particularly get along), cramped, and often difficult. Things take a turn for the dangerous, when their month-long shift is devasted by one of the worst storms to hit the area in years. The storm is a catalyst for the rest of the film, which seeks to leave you with some serious existential dread, over the course of a story that is at least loosely based on something that really happened.
The Lighthouse is probably not for anyone who wants a standard horror movie experience. There aren’t a lot of jump scares here. There isn’t much, if anything, in the way of sex and violence either. This is a movie that focuses instead on the evolving relationship between these two men, and the increasingly disturbing circumstances they find themselves overwhelmed by. Thomas Griffith comes from an openly wild background. Chaos and fighting have brought him to working at this lighthouse. Thomas Howell is a man of faith. He is perhaps the more sympathetic character in the beginning. His history, however, suggests something far more sinister. We learn a lot about these guys, as the movie takes us deeper and deeper into this quiet nightmare.
The Lighthouse’s atmosphere and script are ambitious, in terms of wanting to do something truly unique with the concept of the psychological thriller. For the most part, The Lighthouse succeeds in everything it aspires to. This is a genuinely unsettling film. It establishes this tone nicely at the start, and things only get more hellish and surreal as the running time goes on.
The film spends a good deal of time building that dread through the theological discussions that populate much of the dialog between the men. There is an impressive script to be found here. One of the more interesting approaches to the kind of horror that takes us a little too far into isolationism. You might think having someone around would cut into the loneliness. You might think that, but The Lighthouse is a film that loves to prove you wrong. Again and again, this is a movie that delights in lightly mocking your expectations, before tearing them to shreds.
Beautiful set construction, smartly-used CGI, and dark commentary on the subject of faith gives The Lighthouse more than its slightly-underwhelming title might suggest. This is a horror film for those who find a good deal of horror when they simply consider the implications of a universe that has brought you to wherever you happen to be. It could be free will, or it could just be desperate efforts against a universe of endless chaos and madness. It makes sense to look to something like a god, The Lighthouse suggests. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean we should.
With a solid story, excellent performances, and a truly masterful approach to claustrophobic filmmaking, The Lighthouse is a strong effort for everyone involved.