Peter Mullan and Gerard Butler headlining a movie about lighthouse keepers who mysteriously vanish after finding treasure? Count me in. The Vanishing purports to be based on a true story, which might go some way towards explaining why it ends abruptly with one character stood on a boat (this person, in reality, must have perished, but the filmmakers for some reason leave it vague).
We first meet the two Scottish heavyweights waterside, both with distracting accoutrements; Mullan boasts a pipe, Butler a big, woolly jumper. There are also a couple majorly distracting hats that thankfully don’t last very long. The thing is set in Scotland so at least their accents make sense for once, but otherwise these two gents look hugely out of place.
They’re lighthouse keepers Thomas and James respectively who, along with youngster Donald (an emotional Connor Swindells) are tasked with taking care of a scenic little property on an island far removed from civilization. At first, it’s unclear what time period The Vanishing is set in. One half expects Butler to pull out a can of Coke. Do people still look after lighthouses in this day and age?
Anyway, before too long, Thomas, who is grieving for his dead wife, is wandering around in the dead of night in his underpants, wailing, and stealing away to pray in a little shed down the bottom of the garden. At first, it seems like he’s about to lose it, particularly considering a load of dead birds left after a storm suggest bad things are afoot.
Then, a little boat rocks up with a dead body floating next to it and a treasure chest containing Marsellus Wallace’s soul (fine, it’s actually gold, but that makes about as much sense). The lads argue about whether to steal it, but then three other men show up to claim it as their own, with one delivering the amazing line “It wasn’t yours to keep, keeper” with an entirely straight face.
Needless to say, things soon go from bad to worse as escalating tensions in the surprisingly claustrophobic lighthouse lead to violence and madness. It’s a lot and nothing, all at once. The casting is key; Mullan is fresh off reintroducing himself to Americans via Westworld, while Butler was most recently seen in, er, Hunter Killer. Both excel here, rising above the massive jumpers and clunky dialogue with aplomb.
Mullan, of course, is incapable of being bad in anything so he’s a safe bet regardless. But Butler, the man who refuses to do an accent even when he’s supposed to be in ancient Egypt, is still trying to prove himself as an actor. Funnily enough, Den of Thieves actually hinted at what he could do, even if the film itself was a nasty concoction of masculine energy and gun glorification.
I’ve got a major soft spot for him (yes, even after P.S. I Love You) and fully believe he will have his breakout moment some day, even if it takes Nic-Cage-in-Mandy levels of commitment. He’s genuinely good here, emoting hard but never overplaying it. Crazy Gerry does come out a little, but it’s from a different, deeper place, and is much less showy than we’re accustomed to.
It’s possible acting alongside Mullan caused Butler to rise to the occasion, but whatever the reason, he shows real range here. He’s got great comic timing, deadpanning to young Donald that they use the foghorn “When it’s foggy.” He hasn’t got a bad singing voice either, fully committing to a musical performance that would come off cheesy in less capable hands.
Unfortunately, the film around Mullan and Butler (Swindells is fine, but this is clearly a two-hander) isn’t particularly special. The location itself is terrific, creepy but not so scary that it seems dumb for them to stay there. The story unfolds methodically, but it starts off quite heavy due to all the lengthy discussions about the mechanics of the lighthouse, and never recovers.
The Vanishing is very manly. There’s lots of men sitting around smoking pipes and having long chats. Spurts of sporadic, bloody violence enliven it somewhat, but it could definitely stand to lose about 20 minutes. The mystery of whether they’re losing their minds or the gold is cursed isn’t fully fleshed out and the final note is confusing rather than thought-provoking.
Still, it’s wonderful to watch Mullan and Butler play off each other, even in something as inessential as this. Bring them back for a sleazy buddy copy movie à la Filth (where Butler, rather than Mullan, plays the straight man) and we’re in business.
Catch The Vanishing in theaters and On Demand from January 4, 2019
WICKED RATING: 5/10
Director(s): Kristoffer Nyholm
Writer(s): Celyn Jones, Joe Bone
Stars: Gerard Butler, Peter Mullan, and Connor Swindells
Release: January 4, 2019
Studio/ Production Co: Mad As Birds
Length: 101 Minutes