The Vanishing review – windswept lighthouse mystery | Thrillers (film)

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Plenty of beards, glowering stares and the distant susurration of surf in this serviceably tense drama-thriller from screenwriters Joe Bone and Celyn Jones, directed by Kristoffer Nyholm. It has nothing to do with George Sluizer’s horror classic and is based on a true story: the mystery of the Flannan Isles lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides.

In 1900, three lighthouse keepers simply disappeared from that remote island. No one could find any explanation. The apparently supernatural event entered into popular culture, and was the subject of Peter Maxwell Davies’s 1980 opera The Lighthouse, a mystical evocation of suppressed guilt cosmically rolling in with the fog – not a million miles from some ideas in this movie.

What The Vanishing posits is not an alien abduction, or spontaneous combustion, but a tale of fear, self-preservation and greed. James (Gerard Butler) and Thomas (Peter Mullan) are two seasoned, grizzled old lighthouse keepers settling in for a six-week stretch of duty, along with a nervy young recruit, Donald (Connor Swindells). To their astonishment one day, they find a wrecked lifeboat down on the rocks with what appears to be a single dead man, and a locked chest. As the senior ranking officer, Thomas orders Donald to go down on to the rocks to investigate, with terrible results.

Donald, James and Thomas are then galvanised by the chest’s stunningly valuable contents, and alive to the possibility of keeping them, while making a false report to the authorities. But the dead man may have living colleagues who want their treasure chest back.

It’s a very powerfully performed, intimate piece, perhaps inspired at some level by the classic adventure The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Mullan is very good at suggesting the careworn wisdom of someone who has to be a father figure, or even grandfather figure to men who don’t have his skill in self-control and self-denial.

Source: The Guardian
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