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NY Times Review: 'THE VANISHING'

NY Times Review: 'THE VANISHING'

By Jeannette Catsoulis

“Many a keeper’s lost their mind to quicksilver,” warns James (Gerard Butler) as Donald (Connor Swindells), his trainee lighthouse keeper, dabbles a gloved hand in a puddle of mercury. It’s 1938, and the men, accompanied by a veteran keeper named Thomas (Peter Mullan), have arrived for a 6-week shift on a barren lump of rock off the coast of Scotland. The mercury leak is only the first sign of the many troubles to come.

As it turns out, it will be gold, not silver, that turns their heads in “The Vanishing,” a middling good-guys-gone-bad thriller (and no relation to George Sluizer’s ingenious 1991 shocker). Inspired by the Flannan Isles mystery of 1900, when three keepers disappeared without trace, Joe Bone and Celyn Jones’s script takes pains to differentiate the three leads. Thomas is tired and reclusive, haunted by personal tragedy. James, by contrast, is a loving husband and father and a natural mentor to the volatile, inexperienced Donald.

For a while, the Danish director Kristoffer Nyholm (who worked on the original version of “The Killing”) is content to hang out with the men as they catch crabs the size of hubcaps and sing sea shanties. While Jorgen Johansson’s windswept photography creates a credible sense of isolation (he filmed in part at the Mull of Galloway lighthouse), we sense the ominous rhythms of impending calamity. A litter of dead seabirds appears after a storm; a crumpled body and a sealed wooden chest wash up at the base of a cliff. All must be dealt with, the last entailing savage choices that will prove impossible to undo and ruinous to enact.