January 7, 2019 The Vanishing (Movie Review)
Despite the title, The Vanishing has nothing to do with the 1988 Dutch Horror classic. Nor is it an attempt to fix what its infamous 1993 remake got wrong. Instead, 2019’s The Vanishing, released in theaters and on VOD by Saban Films as of Friday, January 4th, started life as Keepers. Perhaps the studio felt that title was a little too vague? Maybe they needed something to make a Thriller about lighthouse keepers sound dramatic while also being universal enough to appeal to everyone more than the localized Scottish mystery it was inspired by.
In 1900, three lighthouse keepers went missing from the Flannan Isles Lighthouse on Eilean Mor. No bodies were found, and beyond rumors, conjecture and some reasonable conclusions, no one knows what exactly happened to them. Director Kristoffer Nyholm (The Enfield Haunting 2015, Taboo 2017) and Writers Joe Bone (The Alienist 2018) and Celyn Jones (Shackleton 2002), found the mystery fertile ground for drama.
Lighthouse keepers Thomas (Peter Mullan: Trainspotting 1996, Tyrannosaur 2011), James (Gerard Butler: The Phantom of the Opera 2004, 300 2006) and Donald (Connor Swindells: VS 2018, Sex Education 2019) start their 6 week shift on the Isles lighthouse. Everything goes as well as can be expected, until they find gold on the island. The problem is; who does it belong to? A distant boat may provide the answers, but what will the keepers do? Can they trust who’s on the boat? Can they even trust each other?
The film was not shot at the real Flannan Isles Lighthouse, but the crew did use four other lighthouses across Scotland from the Mull of Galloway to Cloch Lighthouse. Between the locations and its notable Scots cast, it is Caledonian enough for any Scotophile.
The plot is even similar enough to 1994’s Shallow Grave, where friends in ’90s Edinburgh are torn apart by a dead body and a hidden fortune. That film introduced Director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later 2002, Slumdog Millionaire 2008) to the world. Though it is hard to say if it will do the same to Nyholm.
Not that he does a bad job. He and his crew do a fine job blending 4 different locations into one place in time. The shots flow together well, and with enough dramatic flourish to emphasize the mood of the scenes. The atmosphere is as cold and foreboding as the windswept isle, aiding the tense build-up provided by Bone & Jones’ writing. All capped off with climactic bursts of violence and dread. It has a slow start, yet it runs at a quick pace once the gold comes into play.
The acting is solid as well. Mullan comes off the strongest as the seasoned salt trying to hold things together. Though Swindells does a fine job as his opposite – young, inexperienced, and getting increasingly wound up by the isle and his colleagues. That leaves Butler’s James as the middle ground between the two, not as seasoned as Thomas, but sturdier than Donald. He does not seem to have as much to do for the first act. Though he comes into his own once the second act gets going, and he gets to emote more strongly as a man under pressure.
It does not quite stick the landing for the final act. The ending is fair, following on logically enough from the preceding events. It just does not come off as emotionally climactic as some of the earlier scenes. The second act may start with a bang, but the film ends on a pop. Like a firework that explodes without the sparks. Unlike Shallow Grave, which had a more tantalizing finale.
Ultimately, it may seem unfair to compare The Vanishing to Boyle’s debut. Mullan, Butler, and Swindells are not trendy yuppies, and the setting is far away from Edinburgh. The film also runs at a more sedate pace, and 30 minutes longer than Grave at 1 hour and 50 minutes. Yet, it is not of a radically different flavor, The Vanishing is too good to be a knockoff or store brand version of its forebear. It is just a rival brand with a funny aftertaste. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives this film 3.5 out of 5 stars.