Director Kristoffer Nyholm is certainly no stranger to shrouding his efforts in meticulous mystery. Small-screen heavyweights like Nordic noir The Killing and the Tom Hardy-led BBC offering Taboo fine examples.
His transition to the big screen only serves as a compelling extension of such craftsmanship. The Vanishing may be set within the modest confines of a Scottish lighthouse, but this is a tale that is quickly plunged into darkness, with its protagonists’ morals as increasingly remote as the Flannan Isles.
Inspired by a real-life disappearance back in 1900 and brought to life through a killer script by Joe Bone and Celyn Jones. We soon encounter the tortured trio of Donald (Connor Swindells), James (Gerard Butler) and Thomas (Peter Mullan), whose contrasting levels of experience in their chosen field makes for an intriguing mix.
Anticipating a muted and uneventful six-week stint on the island. Their collective stance is soon made a mockery of with the film’s menacing incline in peril, from treacherous weather conditions to the startling find of an unconscious man washing up on their shores. The mechanics of the lighthouse representing the great complexities of these men and the confining to their own headspace. The discovery of a treasure chest brimming with gold, creating a neat juxtaposition to how they would prefer their own pitch-black secrets to remain locked.
As grizzly as the well-groomed beards of its leading men (sorry Connor!). The Vanishing leans into the genre tropes of a survival horror, rather than relying on middling melodrama and is all the better for it, with its slow-burn thrills and stylish cinematography creating a heady atmosphere. You truly see the toll these snap decisions and sudden bursts of violence carried out by its protagonists, have on them and director Kristoffer Nyholm’s assurance in maintaining the pace and its piercing psychology is mightily impressive.
Nyholm is undoubtedly efficient in making the island feel as much of a character too. The slight rise and fall of its tight camerawork, particularly in its low-angle shots to compliment the lapping waves. The descending of mist in its stiflingly tense stand-offs, solidifying the clouding in judgment. Such fine details only aid the sense of isolation and gradual rise in the personal stakes.
It’s certainly not the first time Gerard Butler has been caught up in a (Geo)storm and his intense showing here as James is a much-needed reminder of what a commanding on-screen presence he can be, whose scattershot psyche is littered with pathos. Much of the tragedy stems from Peter Mullan’s poignant turn as Thomas, who may be the figure burdened with the greatest responsibility, yet his consuming grief consistently threatens to derail him. Whilst Connor Swindells is far from fazed by the stature of his Scottish co-stars as Donald, displaying an emotional maturity and anguish arguably beyond his years, as he tries to combat the paranoia plaguing those around him.
Its story may revel in a disappearing act, but The Vanishing is well worth seeking out. A devilishly dark, brilliantly performed morality tale.
Directed by: Kristoffer Nyholm
Cast: Gerard Butler, Peter Mullan, Connor Swindells
Release Date: 15th March 2019