Danish director Kristoffer Nyholm’s latest feature, crafted in collaboration with British writers Celwyn Jones and Joe Bone, is a taut psychological thriller based around the case of the “Flannan Isle Mystery” and the unsolved disappearances of three lighthouse keepers off the coast of Scotland in 1900.
The three men, Thomas Marshall, James Ducat and Donald McArthur, undertake a six-week stay on the island. Thomas (Peter Mullan) – the more skilled of the trio – battles with his own private war, having recently lost his wife and twins. James (Gerard Butler) leaves behind a young family, while the youngest, Donald (a strong debut by newcomer Connor Swindells) joins in an attempt to learn the trade.
After a particularly violent storm – through which dead seagulls are found ominously scattered – an unwitting Donald is lowered by rope to rescue a man found unconscious on the rocks. A truly gripping scene ensues, whereby the stranger endeavours to kill Donald, violently protecting a closed wooden chest. Succeeding in lifting up their young crewmember, Thomas decides the trunk should remain closed, persuading James and Donald to keep everything secret. When the deceased’s fellow workers arrive (played with disquieting effect by Søren Malling and the towering Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) things take a turn for the worse. Nyholm’s direction coupled with Jones and Bone’s writing is a strong partnership, providing enough psychological and visual jolts to keep sustained interest, while Benjamin Wallfisch’s unsettling score defines Jørgen Johansson’s stunning cinematography of the rough-hewn Scottish waters, simultaneously beautiful and savage.
In its essence, this is good old-fashioned storytelling, absorbing from the onset, the keepers ever more desperate as they become embroiled in the horrifying events, their very morals questioned. Butler is affecting and intense as the family man slowly descending into madness, while Swindells displays a naturalistic touch on screen. The weathered Scottish seas and looming lighthouse bring to mind Ray Bradbury’s short story The Foghorn, equally atmospheric and tense, and recommended reading.
There has been much speculation and conjecture around these incidents – some of which have been of supernatural nature – and the film does not intend to answer these, but successfully presents the strained relationships that occur when desire and consciences are confronted, allowing the audience to reflect upon what may have occurred on that fateful night.
The Vanishing is released nationwide on 29th March 2019.
Watch the trailer for The Vanishing here: