The Vanishing is based upon a real-life mystery, in which three lighthouse keepers out in the Flannan Islands, stationed at the lighthouse on Eilean Mor twenty miles west of the Outer Hebrides island of Lewis, in Scotland, disappeared sometime around December 15th 1900. A relief crew found the island deserted, the logs in the building recounting a terrible storm but otherwise not indicating what might have happened to the three men, no trace of whom was ever found.
Well, I’ll state it now- ‘Gerard Butler in fine performance in decent movie’, something I was beginning to think I’d never write. Having taken the money and run as he slummed in too many action b-movies, it’s actually something of a surprise to see him demonstrating a low-key, underplayed performance such as this with some genuine warmth and sensitivity. Ably supported by the ever-dependable Peter Mullan and newcomer Connor Swindells, at its best this film is structured like a play, and makes for a fine character piece.Where it falls down is in the depressingly predictable melodrama that ensues as the film offers its own suggestion for what may have happened to the three men- and when I state that there’s a box of gold involved, I guess groans are inevitable. Maybe I would have preferred Aliens or some kind of vaguely supernatural maritime threat. Yeah, maybe the latter. Greed and gold and smugglers/criminals… I don’t know. It somehow failed to live up to the mystery, to me,
Ultimately the film could have been a slow-burn character piece about men slowly disintegrating on a lonely barren island as cut off from humanity as would be an astronaut on the moon decades later. With no boat of their own, they were dependant on a boat from the mainland some six weeks later with its relief crew, and had no working radio to contact anyone. Imagine the loneliness, the desolation of the unforgiving barren landscape cut off from their fellow men. Its a great premise for a psychological thriller, perhaps, and there’s some of that, here, but it’s betrayed by a simplistic plot of lost treasure and antagonists coming to the island looking for it. I don’t think the film is ever entirely predictable, it’s better than that, but some of its ensuing melodrama feels disappointing. Possibly its quite unfair of me to expect something as dark a journey into darkness as Apocalypse Now, but this film could have been that. It could have been darker, denser… maybe a little like Angel Heart or Jacobs Ladder.
Which is, again, me criticising a film for what it isn’t, rather than what it is.
I will just mention the film’s score by Benjamin Wallfisch- well, describing it as a ‘score’ possibly isn’t quite right. Its really an ambient drone of a likely small orchestra augmented by an electronic soundscape, and really just functions to establish mood. As such it serves the film well enough but I doubt it would be a pleasant listening experience in its own right, and so is sadly typical of so many scores today. Wallfisch of course is famous for replacing Johann Johannsson on the scoring duties of Blade Runner 2049, and this connection interested me because a lot of The Vanishing music recalls the wintry electronic soundscapes in some of Johannsson’s albums and soundtracks. Particularly, here, the strange sounds of his Arrival score. I did wonder whether Johansson’s music was used as a temp score for this film, or even if he had been possibly chosen to score this film prior to his untimely passing. That’s all conjecture on my part and possibly ill-founded, but it was remarkable, some of the similarities here.