- Eddie Harrison
- 25 March 2019
A long-debated mystery becomes a rather drab thriller starring Gerard Butler and Peter Mullan
The mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers from a remote Scottish lighthouse at Flannan Isles in 1900 has provoked much creative conjecture, from WW Gibson's atmospheric 1912 poem to a classic 1977 Doctor Who episode ('Horror of Fang Rock'). The enigmatic details have usually inspired supernatural theories; the first mistake that Kristoffer Nyholm's film makes is to spin events into a reductive psychological thriller. Filmed under the uninspiring title Keepers, The Vanishing labours to the least interesting solution possible, and was unceremoniously shunted direct to home-streaming services in the US.
Updated without much reason to the 1930s, things begin with the right sense of trepidation, as James (Gerard Butler), Thomas (Peter Mullan) and new recruit Donald (Connor Swindells) set out for Eilean Mor. It's established that mercury poisoning may be damaging the men's mental health, and when interlopers arrive complete with a stash of stolen gold, mutual suspicion leads to internecine violence in the patented style of John Huston's 1948 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
But The Vanishing's tale of lighthouse keepers fighting for survival doesn't have any of the narrative drive that Huston's classic offered. Initially well-worked tension gives way to unsubtle histrionics, and Nyholm (best known for his work in TV, including The Killing, The Enfield Haunting and Taboo) seems unable to keep his cast on the same page in terms of pitching their performances. There's precious little psychology here to sustain a psychological thriller, and even the dependably gruff duo of Butler and Mullan are left all at sea.
The profile of both subject and stars promises a far more interesting experience than the drab final product, which takes a convoluted route towards a dull denouement that the audience already knows. Thrill-seekers should look elsewhere; as darkness falls on the lighthouse, The Vanishing's gloomy brand of entertainment fails to spark much cinematic joy.
General release from Fri 29 Mar.