The Vanishing is a Brilliantly Scottish Island Nightmare

Did I start this website with the intention of creating a Gerard Butler cinematic universe? Of course not. But life takes you where it takes you and sometimes you simply have no choice but to go with that flow. It’s been a strange couple of years, alright? Sometimes, a gal just needs to dedicate herself to an absurdly niche project and call it a day.

All this to say: I’ve been watching more Gerard Butler movies, and I would like to talk to you about them. Well, one in particular, to be precise – 2018’s The Vanishing. Now, this was out in the same timeframe as Den of Thieves, which was where my and Kevin’s standom of the Great Scottish Gerry began; Den of Thieves is a deranged performance from the man himself, though one entirely worth seeing, for pure entertainment value alone. This performance? This one is just downright good.

Based on the Flannan Isle mystery of the early 20th Century, The Vanishing is a delightfully Scottish film. Starring Peter Mullan, Butler, and Connor Swindell as three lighthouse keepers stuck on a remote island for six weeks, it’s a juicy little set-up that leads to a genuinely engaging slice of windswept Scottish drama-horror. Directed by Kristoff Nygard, it has an eerie, unsettling tone that only grows over the course of the movies – tight close-ups, long, tense conversations, shifting loyalties and intentions keep things in a state of constant flux. It’s a classic story – dangle temptation in front of people driven by something powerful, sew doubt between them, and watch it blossom into something horrible – but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like seeing it. In the hands of great actors – which I really believe all three of these leading men are – and a great director, it feels unpredictable and disorientating in the best way possible.

I have a real soft spot for stories set in Scotland, my home country (which is why I am telling one of my own over on my new podcast right now, if you’re into that kind of thing), and the most impressive thing that The Vanishing does is capture a really specific Scottish character development. The interaction of these three men, across three generations, the way they talk to each other, the roles they slip into, feels so real to me, and that’s something that just gives this film an extra edge over the traditional telltale-heart driven guilt fable.

If anything is a masterclass in screenwriting and acting, it’s having three Scottish men of the 20th century going through Strong Emotions; the level of repression is at professional levels, but Mullan, Butler, and Swindell explore that guilt, sadness, grief, trauma with enormous depth and subtlety over the course of The Vanishing’s runtime. It’s a genuinely brilliant little drama – sad, thoughtful, tense and sad again – and a reminder that, no matter how much the industry often seems to want to discount Butler as a performer, between this and Den of Thieves – he’s got The Range.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it,  please consider supporting us on Ko-Fi. You can check out more of my work on my personal blog, The Cutprice Guignol!

By Louise MacGregor

(header image via New York Times)

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