Lighthouse (1999) Movie Review

There’s no doubt the British Slasher “Lighthouse” (aka “Dead of Night”) could have been much better. It has an interesting premise, but the execution lacks proficiency and there’s a dullness about the whole thing that’s hard to figure out. The characters are mostly one-note and plainly drawn; more ambiguity and shadiness would have done wonders. Instead, the film comes across as a bit clumsy, especially where the main characters are involved.

“Lighthouse” is about prisoners being escorted to an island prison via ship in the dead of night. When the ship runs aground, the occupants — prisoners and officials alike — are forced to swim to safety at a nearby lighthouse island, the spotlight of which was suspiciously off at the time of the crash. Unfortunately for our survivors — three prisoners, a number of officials, and a female criminal psychologist — another prisoner had escaped the ship before it sank. And that prisoner, serial killer Leo Rook (Christopher Adamson), is also at the lighthouse and he’s taking no prisoners.

The rest of the film is standard stuff, with the survivors, led by capable convicted wife killer Spader (James Purefoy, “Resident Evil”), trying their best to avoid Rook’s machete. We are told that Spader is a wife killer, although he claims he was framed. We are supposed to think Spader’s shady past is in question, but events in the film tell us otherwise. The script has Spader performing one heroic act after another, making Spader’s innocence an obvious fait accompli. More ambiguity would have provided the character complexity, but that’s simply not the case here.

The serial killer himself is kept in shadows for much of the film, with his face finally exposed toward the very end. Rook isn’t the most intimidating screen villain, and if anything it’s somewhat comical to watch Rook’s tall, lanky frame walk casually from spot to spot, nonchalantly taking his victims wherever he finds them. Michael Myers this guy ain’t, even though he gets the same attributes as all Slasher villains — namely a personal transporter that allows him to be everywhere and an uncanny ability to keep ticking.

The cast of “Lighthouse” is hit and miss, with no on really standing out. Christopher Dunne gets the unenviable task of playing the Asshole Bureaucrat and Rachel Shelley stumbles through the movie as Doctor Kirsty McCloud, a supposedly brainy clinical psychologist studying serial killer Rook. It is later revealed that McCloud has a past with Rook, but this revelation seems to have been tacked on at the last minute. Having studied Rook for years now, you’d think McCloud’s expertise would come in handy, but you’d be wrong because she offers no insights whatsoever. Other than to make eyes at Spader, there seems to be no good reason for a female character to even be in the film at all.

Hunter gives us a number of bloody kills, but they all come by way of a machete to the neck, which isn’t exactly re-inventing the wheel. Most of the film takes place in the middle of the night, which makes the lighthouse location well suited to the subject at hand. With its rock-covered land, the small, darken island resembles a death trap rather than the salvation the survivors thought it was. With the lighthouse and its lone sweeping spotlight, the film easily achieves a foreboding mood, even if the grainy darkness eventually gets a bit tedious after a while.

The movie’s most realized character is Leo Rook, and that’s not saying much at all. One of Rook’s quirks is that he wears white shoes during his killing spree, although how a prisoner being transported to an island prison was allowed to keep his favorite pair of shoes is a bit of a mystery. The other big plot contrivance is how Rook could break out of his jail cell on the boat, kill two prison guards, and escape the boat without anyone noticing until much, much later. Security on this boat sucks.

As a Slasher film, “Lighthouse” works well enough. There’s a hefty bodycount and a healthy dose of bloodletting to satisfy genre fans; they’re nothing extraordinary, or even particularly clever, but I suppose they’ll do. The movie’s standout scene is a low-key stalk sequence inside the lighthouse’s bathroom. The rest of the movie is mostly pedestrian, although the final Act gives us an excellent scene involving characters dangling from the outside of the lighthouse and a handful of hair.

Simon Hunter (director) / Simon Hunter, Graeme Scarfe (screenplay)
CAST: James Purefoy …. Richard Spader
Rachel Shelley …. Dr. Kirsty McCloud
Christopher Adamson …. Leo Rook
Paul Brooke …. Captain Campbell
Don Warrington …. Ian Goslet
Christopher Dunne …. O’Neil

Buy Lighthouse on DVD