Like H.G. Wells, Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, the terrifying tales of Edgar Allan Poe have been scaring the bejesus out of people for many years – and with these authors in mind, Benjamin Cooper has taken Poe’s last recorded written work from May to August 1849, The Light House and has adapted the fragmentary sum of words into a feature length film. Because the work was never finished (Poe died on October 7th, 1849, allegedly from an animal bite/scratch that resulted in the writer contracting rabies which then went untreated and caused his death) this tantalising last novella/novel could be interpreted in many different ways on screen.
Cooper attempts to create a sense of isolation and loneliness in an unsettling way, but doesn’t quite seize the essence of Poe’s words and the whole thing is permeated by a production value that is less than mediocre. Edgar Allan Poe’s Lighthouse Keeper is the story of a man (Matt O’Neill) that finds himself shipwrecked on a secluded peninsula, (he’s trying to paddle to San Francisco in a tiny rowboat?) only to awaken on the shore and realise that he has no clue who he is. He spots a large, white house perched atop the cliffs overlooking the sea, with a lighthouse affixed next to it. While attempting to scale the cliffs to reach the home, the man loses grip and falls to the shoreline, losing consciousness. He awakens in the house, taken in by an enigmatic and elusive woman named Nora (Rachel Riley.) She disappears, leaving the amnesic man (later calling himself J.P.) to come across an old, acrimonious lighthouse keeper called Walsh (played by Vernon Wells.) He’s a cantankerous old bastard, drinking heavily and murmuring ominous quotes (in one scene uttering Poe’s Lenore across a dinner table) to J.P. He informs the recent addition to the island that the next ferry is in two weeks, and that “The light was a warning, not an invitation.” He also tells him to keep a candle on at all times. Stranded, J.P. goes to the woods in the morning and meets Nora again. As a romance starts to blossom between the two, she explains that Walsh is crazy so she cannot go near the house. During the night, J.P. blows out the candle and sees spectral creatures. What are the secrets of Walsh, Nora and the lighthouse? An unknown evil spectre seems to be stalking the old Lighthouse Keeper, and although the location exists in a sort of time vacuum, it can be argued that this is set in the early 1900’s.
A couple of things will become very evident when you start watching Edgar Allan Poe’s Lighthouse Keeper. One of the main issues to be found is the film’s utterly bland and boring pace, which drains the viewer’s investment and attention span very quickly. Cooper may have been trying to emulate retro horror films such as The Terror (1963) or House of Usher (1960), and with such a haunting and beautiful vista (the howling of the wind, the crashing of the waves on the rocks) on offer, it seems like a wasted opportunity as there’s little in the way of tension here. It also feels very reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980), with Vernon Well’s Lighthouse Keeper looking like the stereotypical fisherman. If the build-up in the first half is slightly flat, the tempo shifts during the third act, where it spins wobbly like a drunk cha-cha dancer into a zombie-ghost story. But the poor make-up effects and CGI on display will sadly make you cringe. It’s a shame as the story itself is quite intriguing, as it does genuinely leave you second guessing what the mystery of The Lighthouse is. Once the stinger finally does come, you’ll either roll your eyes and let out a heavy sigh, or raise your eyebrows and go, ‘huh, didn’t see that coming.’ Either way, the astoundingly bad CGI and some ropey cinematography lets the movie down on all fronts.
In one section, J.P. and Nora are kissing below a kaleidoscope of butterflies. Actual footage of butterflies has been filmed, or simply taken from stock footage. Either way, the scene plays out fine until an exceedingly rubbish CGI butterfly zig-zags across the screen with all the grace of a coked up two year old attempting the world’s worst etch-a-sketch whilst simultaneously competing in a limbo tournament. It looks so fake it’s on par with Birdemic. The same bloody CGI butterfly loop turns up again at the end of the film, so it’s evident that someone actually sat there in the editing booth and said something along the lines of, ‘that’s a bloody good butterfly, that is. Let’s have it in there again. Just for shits and giggles.’ The first time wasn’t a mistake. It’s just atrocious, adding nothing to the scenes and pulls the viewer out instantly. Other effects that probably should have been burned from the celluloid reel include a very 80’s looking Dire Straits, Money for Nothing style angular boat at sea, hastily put-together cracks that we’re meant to believe form in the ceiling and walls, shoddy zombie make-up effects that you’d find at your local garage and weather effects that look like they were slapped in using a mobile phone. From the early 90’s.
I applaud the originality and old school mechanics on display in some scenes though, like for instance when J.P. is scaling the cliff-side, I couldn’t help but feel that they’d just put the camera at a horizontal angle so that the actor was simply crawling along the ground, and they flipped the image to make it look like he was scaling the rocky cliff (a lot like the elevator scene in Dan O’Bannon and John Carpenter’s, ‘Dark Star,’ and the acting (especially from Riley) is a lot more competent than other indie horror titles on the market at the moment, I just didn’t feel the tangibility of isolation that was evidently being portrayed. If you watch something like ‘It Comes at Night,’ you’ll be able to see how effective a single set location can be, relying on paranoia and audience’s expectations rather than stock sound footage and old cinema tropes. The theme of Edgar Allan Poe’s Lighthouse Keeper is great, but unfortunately the execution is marred by some terrible effects and a turgid pace.
One thing that kept niggling me was where I’d seen Walsh from before – and then it hit me. Bennett from Commando! Let off some steam, Bennett!
Review by Anthony Self
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