Edgar Allen Poe's Lighthouse Keeper Movie Review
Written by Ren Zelen
Released by ITN Distribution
Directed by Benjamin Cooper
Written by Benjamin Cooper (screen story), Carl Edge (screenplay) and Edgar Allan Poe (original story)
2016, 88 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Digital release on 27th November 2017
Vernon Wells as Walsh
Matt O'Neill as J.P.
Rachel Riley as Nora
Monty Wall as Captain
Of all Edgar Allan Poe's writings, few have invited as much speculation as The Light-House. Poe worked on the piece from May to August in 1849, but it was left unfinished, as Poe passed away on October 7th. Critics have suggested that the story may be symbolic of Poe’s own mental and physical decline, resonating as it does with the themes of loneliness, alcoholism and isolation.
Poe’s death, it has since been confirmed, was due to an animal bite that resulted in the writer contracting rabies which was left untreated. (It may be assumed that Poe was already ill with the disease at the time he was writing The Light-House).
The unfinished fragment is not included in most collections of Poe’s short stories and poems, but in his film adaptation, writer and director Benjamin Cooper (The Brink 2006, Primitive 2011) expands upon the partial story, and with the help of co-writer Carl Edge, develops it into a complete narrative screenplay.
The film opens on a sun-drenched beach, with a shipwrecked man (Matt O'Neill) waking to the sight of an enigmatic woman (Rachel Riley) who wanders away and silently disappears. The stricken man is subsequently found and taken to the lighthouse by its grizzled keeper, Walsh (Vernon Wells). The man realizes that he has no memory of who he is or what he has left behind.
The amnesiac elects to call himself JP and repeatedly asks the lighthouse keeper about the mysterious girl. However, his host insists that there is no woman and that they are the only two people on the island - the only way on or off it being by way of a ferry, whose visits are rare.
The amnesiac JP must accept that he has no choice but to wait for the next boat. He bides his time by shoring up the fragile foundations of the lighthouse, and by exploring the island. His surveys result in further sightings of the young woman until they finally meet and begin a secret relationship.
Ignoring Walsh's warnings to avoid the dangerous sea caves and to keep a light burning at all times at night, JP begins to uncover disturbing secrets and falls foul of a horrifying curse.
What does the lighthouse keeper fear, out there in the dark, and from whence does it emerge? Supernatural entities, tragedy, betrayal, and madness ensue. Copper and Edge create a Gothic narrative that concludes with a satisfying denouement, resonating with a sense of poetic inevitability which one suspects Poe would have been pleased with.
Director Benjamin Cooper shoots his outdoor scenes bleached by sunlight, and these offer a startling contrast to the Gothic darkness of the lighthouse and its night-time denizens. He enhances the Gothic atmosphere with night scenes featuring the howling wind and the nearby crashing waves, keeping his interiors dimly illuminated by candles and lanterns, with shadows lurking in every corridor and staircase.
The script rather relies heavily on cliché and reveals a lack of depth, so the onus is on the actors to bring some liveliness to the proceedings. This results in a certain stiltedness of performance. The romantic elements involving Riley are unengaging, although there is an entertaining contrast between the demeanour of two main protagonists – the jittery wilfulness of O'Neill’s JP and the gruff, portentous doom-mongering of Wells’s lighthouse keeper.
Edgar Allan Poe's Lighthouse Keeper is unashamedly an old-school production, a brave venture for today's horror market - the film is surely a labour of love. (If we are in any doubt, there is an affectionate nod to Poe himself, as a photograph of the author appears on a dresser in the Lighthouse keeper’s bedroom).
Working with a tiny budget, the movie probably falls short of its creators' ultimate vision, but it should please fans of Poe, touching upon his themes of guilt, dread, isolation, and paranoia. On the whole, Cooper and Edge have been able to offer a narrative that fits with Poe’s unfinished story and captures the spirit of the author's earlier work. Edgar Allan Poe's Lighthouse Keeper succeeds, at least in part, in conveying the dark, dreamy, somewhat feverish atmosphere that Poe’s stories so often produce.