Edgar Allan Poe's Lighthouse Keeper


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Lighthouse Keeper
"Director Benjamin Cooper is at his best when shooting outdoor scenes bleached by sunlight."

Of all Edgar Allan Poe's mysteries, few have left as many questions unanswered at The Light-House, in part because it was left unfinished, in part because there has been speculation that it might have factored into the author's death. It has inspired several further literary works. This first cinematic adaptation actually owes more to Roger Corman's 1963 film The Terror, which was itself inspired by, but not adapted from, Poe's work. Ending with a quote from another Poe piece and referencing, along the way, the severally appearing Lost Leonore, it nicely captures the spirit of the author's earlier work, if not so much that of The Light-House itself.

We open with an amnesiac man (Matt O'Neill) - who later calls himself JP - waking on a beach to the sight of a beautiful woman (Rachel Riley) who wanders away without introducing herself. Subsequently, he is taken to the lighthouse by its conventionally presented yet enigmatic keeper, Walsh (Vernon Wells), who tells him that there is no woman and they are the only two people on the peninsula, the only way on or off it being by way of a ferry whose visits are rare.

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As our brash young hero must accept that he is trapped for some time, he explores the island, uncovering further mysteries and dangers. It doesn't help that he casually ignores Walsh's advice, entering caves where he could easily be drowned and failing to keep a light burning at night. What is it out there in the dark that the lighthouse keeper fears, and whence did it emerge? Terrible curses, romance and betrayal, madness and structural decay all worm their way into a narrative that spirals round with a sense of poetic inevitability but still finds room for the roughness and the disjointed moments essential to the Gothic.

Clearly made on a shoestring, the film features solid enough performances (especially from Wells) but suffers when it comes to rendering the fantastic, relying on shadow to half-conceal its monstrous elements lest they look too silly, and resorting in places to CGI which recalls Nineties video games. Director Benjamin Cooper is at his best when shooting outdoor scenes bleached by sunlight, and he uses these moments of brightness to good effect in contrast with the darkness of the crumbling lighthouse and the thickness of the night.

A curiously arcane choice for today's market, this is clearly a film made for love. It's doomed to fall short of its creators' ambitions but it has a pleasing sincerity and enough substance to entertain even those unfamiliar with Poe's work. Enjoy it with a fine amontillado on a night when the wind is high.

Reviewed on: 22 Nov 2017
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Edgar Allan Poe's Lighthouse Keeper packshot
Marooned on a remote peninsula and haunted by frightening specters, a young man becomes convinced that he has caught sight of a beautiful woman.

Director: Benjamin Cooper

Writer: Benjamin Cooper, Cal Edge

Starring: Vernon Wells, Matt O'Neill, Rachel Riley

Year: 2016

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted


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