Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous line “hell is other people” would make a good alternate title for “The Lighthouse,” a gloomy historical suspense picture based on the true story of two men who drove each other mad at a remote oceanside Welsh outpost in 1801.
Mark Lewis Jones plays Thomas Griffiths, a gruff vulgarian partnered with the pious Thomas Howell (Michael Jibson) at Smalls Lighthouse, about 20 miles off the coast. For a time they work well together, tending to their own business. Then a storm severs their lines of communication with the mainland, and the men begin to annoy each other.
“The Lighthouse” is a small movie that should have been bigger. Director and co-writer Chris Crow lacks the budget to give the raw survivalist “man against the elements” scenes the scale they need.
But Crow’s co-stars are more than capable. Jones and Jibson (the latter of whom also worked on the script) play this material like an intimate theater piece, finding the finer nuances in their characters’ simmering animosity. Even when Griffiths and Howell get drunk together and briefly bond, it’s clear the detente won’t last.
“The Lighthouse” builds to a tragic incident and its disturbing aftermath, depicted with the dread and sick irony of an old “Tales From the Crypt” comic. But for the most part, the fears here are social, not supernatural. What could be worse than being stuck in a room with your least favorite co-worker, for weeks on end?
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Playing: Starts July 6, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills