The Vanishing Review
Three years spent working on Nordic noir drama The Killing marks director Kristoffer Nyholm as the perfect choice for The Vanishing, a moody, atmospheric thriller set off the Scottish coast. The exact location is the Flannan Isles, a place shrouded in myth and legend after the unexplained disappearance of three lighthouse men in 1900. Nyholm’s film is based on their story, moving events forward to 1938 to imagine what might have become of them all those years ago.
The three men heading to the isles on a six-week shift are the veteran Thomas (Peter Mullan), a man still haunted by a personal tragedy, James, played with quiet physical intensity by Gerard Butler, and the fresh-faced Donald (Connor Swindells), who is still learning the ropes. On the island they set about their tasks and routines that will see them through the next month-and-a-half. When Donald spots a body washed up on the rocks alongside a box of gold, it sparks a sequence of events that dramatically changes the dynamics of the group.
Nyholm’s casting of all three men proves to be the key ingredient for this at times tense thriller, while Jørgen Johansson’s gloomy cinematography shrouds the men in secrecy and unexpected motivations. There are few actors with more gravitas than Mullan, whose gravelled voice and textured face naturally lends his character a rich history. He suits the rugged, wind-swept location that remains overcast and an imposing fourth member of their increasingly splintered group.
Butler has quietly begun to tone down his performances over the past few years and is equally at home in this harsh environment. As an actor he has a natural physicality that even when chewing too much of the scenery makes him watchable. Heading into the second half of the film James slowly starts to unwind (“Many a keeper’s lost their mind to quicksilver,” he says early on when cleaning up spilt mercury), and Butler serves another reminder that he has more to offer than dodgy rom-coms and forgettable action films. Connor Swindells is a relative newcomer having made a name for himself recently on Netflix’s Sex Education and matches his more experienced co-stars stride-for-stride. Given how confident he looks, it would be surprising not to see a lot more of him in years to come.
Joe Bone and Celyn Jones’ script perhaps lacks the depth needed to dig into the crevices of the trio’s state of mind, but Nyholm’s assured direction leads us through punishing moments of violence that help fill in the gaps and aren’t easily forgotten. You can’t help but feel the chill in the air and hear their creaking morals whistling in the wind, eventually forcing the men into making decisions they are unable to come back from once they are enacted.
The Vanishing opens in UK cinemas on March 29th.