GFF19: The Vanishing

Peter Mullan, Gerard Butler and Connor Swindells play lighthouse keepers going through psychological turmoil in Danish director Kristoffer Nyholm’s handsome, satisfyingly dour Scottish thriller

Film Review by Jamie Dunn | 22 Feb 2019
  • The Vanishing
Film title: The Vanishing
Director: Kristoffer Nyholm
Starring: Peter Mullan, Gerard Butler, Connor Swindells

If movies have taught us anything, it’s that putting men in isolation far from society is never a good idea. Whether it’s a sun-soaked paradise in the Pacific Ocean or a luxury resort hotel in the Colorado Rockies, those of us with Y chromosomes don’t fair well in quiet, far-flung locales. And so is the case for the three lighthouse keepers at the centre of The Vanishing, which imagines what might have happened to a real trio who mysteriously vanished without a trace from their post on the lighthouse on the Flannan Isles in 1900.

Peter Mullan plays Thomas, the veteran keeper of the light, and his world-weary performance is the chief reason to see Kristoffer Nyholm’s handsome, satisfyingly dour thriller. So taken is the Danish director with his leading man that the camera will tend to linger admiringly on the crags of his forehead or on the strange crinkles in his neck. He makes the wind-lashed island on which the action takes place look well-moisturised.

Joining Thomas in the task of keeping the lighthouse’s oil burning is brooding family man James (Gerard Butler), who resembles a Munro wrapped in a Fair isle jumper, and stripling Donald McArthur (Connor Swindells), who’s so green he pukes on the choppy boat ride out to the island. Their six-week shift begins pleasantly enough, with bowls of warming broth and gravelly group sing-songs – although Thomas does have a habit of getting hold of the whisky bottle and howling into the stormy night. It’s not until a body and a box of gold bullion turns up crashed on the island’s rocks that things really get tense between the trio.

Joe Bone and Celyn Jones’ script is peppered with flinty dialogue and punctuated with a central sequence of intense violence that’s so brutal and punishing its effects linger long after the incident. There’s also a great sequence where a pair of Scandi buccaneers – played by actors who look like they’re killing time before playing the villains in the next James Bond movie – pay the trio a wonderfully sinister visit and the film becomes, for a moment, Once Upon a Time in the West(ern Isles).

If there’s a weakness to The Vanishing it’s that its psychological breakdowns feel a tad rushed. The film would have benefited from a few more scenes of Mullan and Butler glowering menacingly at each other; but then we could say that about most movies.

The Vanishing had its UK premiere at Glasgow Film Festival on 21 Feb, with an additional screening on 22 Feb, GFT, 3pm