The Vanishing


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Vanishing
"The film takes time to gather pace and discover its true direction. Once there, the story takes hold and won’t let go." | Photo: Saban Films

Based upon a song or a poem or something unexpectedly rare, what happened on the remote Flannan Isles at a lighthouse or outside in the skulking rain remains a mystery, not in the same league as The Marie Celeste but pregnant with possibility.

Give the writers a rope and they will hang you in slow motion. Present them with facts that are all you have to offer and watch their imaginations grow horns.

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The basics are these: two men and a lad take a boat to the lighthouse on Flannan to relieve it. The kid has never done this before but the men are old hands. Nothing scares them. They tell stories about how dangerous their lives would be if something went wrong and the weather turned ugly or another ship wrecked on their rocks.

Almost anything that comes too close to the plot, even in passing, feels like a spoiler. Mystery is a movement into darkness leading to a conclusion that won’t satisfy the partially blind or the intellectually curious. The cock up theory of disaster settles like dried blood on the parquet floor. Stay weird and the chances are better. Conventional storytelling drops like a stone into the depths of normality. Watching seabirds for clues of future weather is closer to the importance of reality than believing in ghosts.

Isolation feels like another country and when Donald McArthur (Connor Swindells), the youngest of the three, finds a rowboat trapped and breaking up in a gully on the island with a body stretched out inside beside a strongbox full of gold, his mind freezes. This is the start of coming together and going away. Will their silence destroy them?

The film takes time to gather pace and discover its true direction. Once there, the story takes hold and won’t let go and the characters are at the mercy of their fears and doubts. Thomas Marshall (Peter Mullen) is a quiet man, silver bearded, the leader by name who has persuaded Ducat (Gerard Butler) to come along, against his better judgement, and agreed to let Donald fill the do-anything-go-anywhere junior role.

Once the action sets circumstance on fire and they find themselves involved in something life threatening and criminal reality blurs the underside of “let the light shine” and normality feels undervalued and inexplicable.

The director, Kristoffer Nyholm, worked on The Killing and Taboo and is no stranger to tension. He holds this one together with a firm grip, never indulging horror for a cheap shock. The performances are admirable without resurrecting images from previous roles. Swindells, the newbie, has the courage of other people’s convictions and never looks like a passenger in First Class. These men stand alone in Celyn Jones and Joe Bone’s screenplay and give it the respect it deserves.

Reviewed on: 29 Mar 2019
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The Vanishing packshot
Three lighthouse keepers arrive on an uninhabited island 20 miles off the Scottish coast. It is the start of a six week shift that is anything but routine as they make a discovery that provokes greed, fear, paranoia and a vicious fight for survival.
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Director: Kristoffer Nyholm

Writer: Joe Bone, Celyn Jones

Starring: Gerard Butler, Connor Swindells, Peter Mullan

Year: 2018

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Glasgow 2019

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