Inspired by the real life events of The Flannan Isles lighthouse disappearances in 1900, where three lighthouse keepers simply vanished without explanation, The Vanishing spins an elaborate tale behind these disappearances. The film does not try to make sense of the mystery; instead it develops a voice of its own that echoes of old pirate stories, and explores dark themes of greed, grief, and the age-old tale of man versus nature.
Starring Peter Mullan and Gerard Butler, who both give excellent performances as the two seasoned lighthouse keepers – especially Mulan – , along with Conor Swindells as the twitchy newcomer of the group that is still learning their ways. The narrative begins to unfold after they find a dead man swept ashore with a locked chest, unable to fight the temptation of opening it they eventually discover it contains an enormous amount of gold. Their plot to dispose of the body and keep the gold for themselves is interrupted when two of the man’s friends arrive on the island searching for him, and slowly the keepers begin to lose all aspects of their morality and even themselves in an attempt to keep the gold.
The film is a slow burn thriller; it takes its time to unravel all of its layers. Almost the entirety of the first act of the film plays off as some sort of forced meditation on the violent nature of the island and its effects on the three inhabitants upon it. Director Kristoffer Nyholm (whose name surely does sound like a Scandinavian rip off Christopher Nolan) manages to capture the ominous nature of the keepers’ job, as well as giving the viewer a taste of their inner struggles and background. As the plot thickens, the true character of each of the keepers shines brightly, and as they descend into madness together, one could only but contemplate on the origin of their darkness as much as they contemplate about it on screen themselves. Perhaps it’s the known fate of the characters that allows for all of this reflection rather than focusing solely on the story.
Surely The Vanishing is not without its flaws. The writing does get sloppy at times, throwing in leads that actually lead nowhere, and the soundtrack can impose itself upon the scene rather vulgarly at others, yet the gripping tale never lets go of its viewer. The film may not be the grand tragedy it aspires to be, but in its path to reach that goal, it certainly grants itself moderate appreciation as a solid thriller with excellent performances and mesmerizing cinematography that makes even the grimmest little Scottish Island appear as if cut out from a fantasy.