BR: Vanishing, The / Keepers (2018)

March 8, 2019 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Lionsgate

Region: A

Released:  March 5, 2019

Genre:  Mystery / Suspense

Synopsis: A grim impression the Flannan Isle Mystery in which 3 lighthouse keepers vanished without a trace in 1900.

Special Features:  Making-of Featurette: “Emerging from Darkness: The Vanishing” (8:10) / Digital Copy.




Based on the still-unsolved Flannan Isle Mystery in which three lighthouse keepers vanished from an isolated isle without a trace in 1900, Joe Bone and Celyn Jones’ script unravels like a classic thriller in which isolation + greed drives men mad, but both the writers and director Kristofer Nyholm (The Killing) felt the best drama existed between the relationships of two elder lighthouse keepers and their new trainee rather than the isle that contributes to the madness.

Much of the men’s arrival, training Donald (Connor Swindells) in maintenance and routine, and the physical limits of the isle  are handled in a series of very efficient jump cuts, but by making screen time for three generations of men tasked with exceptionally lonely work, the writers needed to map out the psychologies destined to co-mingle and collide. Instead of extensive exchanges, the dialogue remains minimal, which becomes problematic when conflicts emerge: instead of being tied to shared backstories and the weaponizing of trauma, things unravel in rather spastic bouts.

Elder keeper Thomas (Peter Mullan, the drama’s de factor star) is cynical of Donald, being benevolent, cold, cruel, paternal, and irked, whereas middle aged James (Gerard Butler, who co-produced) is the more agreeable team member who bonds with both, acts as peacemaker, but soon snaps and lashes out in what feel like contrivances than logical growths from the developing frictions when a stranger washes up with a chest, a man is killed, and the chest becomes the dangerous fixation of mounting curiosity & greed.

Where the drama clicks is in the way Thomas uses his position and experience to settle disputes, make house rules, and later adapt as the chest is cracked open, and its owners (Olafur Darri Olafsson, and Borgen’s Soren Malling) soon appear at their doorstep. That cat & mouse routine is clever and patiently executed with violent eruptions, but the final resolution is inevitably unsurprising; if the film is to match the outcome of the mysterious case, then we know everyone must die.

To a slight extent, The Vanishing echoes AMC’s The Terror: Season 1, in which the disappearance of Captain Sir John Franklin’s arctic expedition team became fodder for a fantastic and equally dour finale, but Nyholm doesn’t milk the isle for all its magnificent atmosphere. The rock upon which the men are trapped is the second character, but it’s treated as just background. Part of the problem may stem from the use of four lighthouses to create Flannan, which according to the included (and very conventional) making-of featurette, proved impractical to shoot. There’s obvious hiding of location flaws to retain the illusion of one isle: we see the same cliffside vistas and the occasional view from the sea, but are never shown the route one must take between the dock (if it exists) and the top of the isle.

Jorgen Johansson’s cinematography is grim, almost colourless, and suitable for the drama, and the set décor evokes the Spartan environs of the men, but we see just a few rooms of what’s clearly a larger, somewhat sprawling compound; the assumption is the rest of the complex is filled with storage and / or mechanical rooms.

At 104 mins., The Vanishing is a bit long, but Mullan, his raspy voice, and the hundreds of lines etched into his magnificent visage ground the drama, and somewhat make up for the script’s serious shortfalls. It’s also a good fusion of Scottish locations, brogues, period detail, plus Norwegian bleakism that tend to steer the tension away from more generic cat & mouse chases, hiding holes, and gratuitous gore (although the film has its share of bloodshed and bone cracking).

Benjamin Wallfisch’s score is virtually non-existent, which is maybe appropriate since the environment itself has its own soundtrack of crashing waves, winds, surging waters, seagulls, and the man-made sounds of the foghorn and revolving beacon. Lighthouses have proved ideal locations for suspense thrillers and power plays due to the physical and mental challenges they present for the handful of inhabitants: far from civilization, limited (if any) communication tools; the use of routine to deflect the stress from loneliness and wandering thoughts; and the sudden arrival of strangers, which can either bring resources and social contact, or an utter disruption of a necessary order, and forced new order, as in the bleak The Light at the Edge of the World (1971), based on the Jules Verne tale.

Only real qualm: a rather muddy dialogue mix which isn’t helped by a low-key surround sound mix. Although Mongrel Media released the DVD in Canada, the Blu-ray is only available from Lionsgate (USA).



© 2019 Mark R. Hasan





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