The Lighthouse (2016)

Today’s film is… wait a second… The Lighthouse? Didn’t I already cover that in October? This must be a different movie with the same title, then. Lemme read the description:

“Two men fight for their lives and their sanity when they’re trapped in a remote lighthouse for months while a freak storm rages and tragedy strikes.”

-Some underpaid intern at Tubi

Huh. That, uh… That sure does sound like The Lighthouse. But this came out a few years before and stars no names I recognize–the two leads here were in Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi as “Captain Whose Seige Dreadnought Gets Bombed at the Start” and “Shuttle Pilot Who Looks Worried when Kylo Ren Demands More.” So, uh… I guess we should see how this movie differs from the one you’ve actually heard of.

Two men, Thomas Griffiths and Thomas Howell, are lighthouse keepers 25 miles from the mainland in 1801. Tensions start high and get worse when a huge storm sweeps in and traps them there long past when their month-long shift should be over. We find out that previously Howell’s negligence caused the death of six men and that Griffiths is not happy about it. But fuck what he thinks, cause Griffiths dies soon after in an accident. Howell is wracked with guilt and believes if he disposes of the body, it’ll look like foul play, so he builds a coffin for Griffiths and tries to lower it down via pulley. It gets stuck at window level and becomes a nightmare when the storm destroys a chunk of the box so Griffiths’ hand is now knocking against the window. An indeterminate amount of days later the storm clears and Howell is rescued, though he is basically irrevocably insane.

So obviously there are some differences between this and Mr. Robert Eggers’ film. For one thing, there’s not a single fart in this version, so make of that what you will. This movie was also in color with a typical theatrical aspect ratio. I won’t say that this looks cheap, but the few special effects–mostly backgrounds–didn’t look too convincing here; the whole thing looked and felt like it was filmed on a small set, where the 2019 film actually built a lighthouse. The supernatural elements here are more obviously “a man going insane with guilt” so it just barely dodges the “horror” tag. All in all, this was a more faithful adaptation of the real life tragedy.

Oh, I’m sorry, did I not mention that this happened in real life? This is a dramatic retelling of the Smalls Lighthouse Tragedy of 1801, where Thomas Griffiths died and Thomas Howell went mad. And that’s why there are so many similarities between this and Eggers’ The Lighthouse–they’re pulling from the same story, but to different degrees. I like to imagine a spectrum with 2016 The Lighthouse at one end, 2019 The Lighthouse at the other end, and the first season of the AMC show The Terror in the middle. 2016’s is a pretty faithful retelling of the story (with some embellishments because it’s a movie and that’s apparently required), but with a more subdued horror element. 2019’s is very loosely based on the real events–they’re both Thomas, a storm, and disaster–and leans much more into horror. And The Terror (a show a friend of mine loves and by mentioning on this blog I’m now obligated to watch at some point) is in the middle: a fairly faithful retelling with added horror elements added in to spice things up.

But the real question is, should you watch 2016’s The Lighthouse? And my answer is… enh? It’s not bad, but it felt overly long and uninteresting at times. Of the two I would absolutely recommend the 2019 The Lighthouse, and only somewhat recommend this if you want to know more of the real life tragedy. Or if you’re a sucker for British men being sad and tragic… Hannah.

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