Sunday 9 April 2023

The Vanishing (2018)

The mystery of the Flannan Isles is a fascinating one, as are most mysteries! Three lighthouse keepers, a century ago, disappeared. No explanation ever discovered, only clues as to what was left behind. Obviously, as there nobody left to tell the story, this drama is just that - a creation by story writers and chain of events that might have happened. I guess any one of us could cook up a story of our own on this basis, but here, I think, it's been done pretty well - making for an often tense thriller.

If you want to read the background to the actual incident, there's a deep-dive over at Wikipedia, well worth a visit. The writers here have made this one into a tale of greed, theft, regret, violence, revenge, mental illness and opportunity. The opportunity being that the three of them stumble over something very valuable which washes up ashore on their wind-swept, storm-battered rock. The initial negotiations between them are very much about what they are going to do about it, how they could keep it and not be uncovered, establishing the seniority and pecking-order between them for us. We've seen this before of course, in excellent films like Shallow Grave (1994), Fargo (1996), A Simple Plan (1998), No Country for Old Men (2007) and many more. The audience initially feels the euphoria of good fortune with the characters which often turns to reality orientation followed by anxiety, paranoia, mistrust and danger amongst friends in these films.

We get a brief background of the characters prior to the action and the first quarter of the film is rather slow because of that. Getting a feel for the isolation of the job, the people left behind for their 6-week stint and the financial strife that most families in the community endure, often not having enough to feed themselves. We find out about disasters and trauma in the lives of the three and how events have made them what they are - and where they have ended up.

Thomas, James and Donald are played admirably by Peter Mullan (Ozark, Tyrannosaur), Gerard Butler (Plane, Hunter Killer, Greenland) and Connor Swindells (Barbarians), each turning in convincing performances, stretching the actors for our benefit. Director Kristoffer Nyholm (Taboo) keeps things tight for most of the film with occasional forays into scenic appreciation - with a lovely isolated, atmospheric set - and everyday drama too. The middle section of the film is where the action happens and the introduction of a couple more characters, played with equal conviction by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (Entrapped) and Søren Malling (Men and Chicken).

These new characters bring trouble to our trio and we witness a series of unsavoury scenes in which much unpleasantness is dished out with shocking outcomes. These events lay the groundwork for the remaining quarter of the film as we observe first hand the impact on the people who remain. The bleak trauma of the events has a big impact on them all, with tragic consequences, bring the story writers' idea together - as to how the real-world mystery may have come about.

There were some clues left behind, some of which feature in the film and become weaved into the tale, but much meandering and freehand is also employed for dramatic effect. Still, this idea is as good as any and I really enjoyed this film, story and take on what really might have happened in amongst this mystery. Highly recommended.

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