‘The Vanishing’ Review: Gerard Butler Has Island Fever In Gripping Thriller

Gerard Butler’s last cinematic foray into Scotland was 2004’s beautifully rendered tale Dear Frankie, and now he’s back playing a much darker tune with The Vanishing. Though possessing moniker that begs for supernatural occurrences, this film carves a much different, yet ultimately satisfying, path.

Connor Swindells, Peter Mullan and Gerard Butler in a scene from The Vanishing, directed by Kristoffer Nyholm

The Vanishing is a tale that originated from a true story. Dubbed “The Flannan Isle Mystery,” the December 1900 incident dealt with the disappearance of three lighthouse house keepers. They were never found on that island, and their fate remains a mystery.

Such a premise begs for a supernatural element in the proceedings, but The Vanishing takes the incident and turns it into a tale of greed and paranoia.



The three men in this tale are all in various stages of their life. Thomas (Peter Mullan, the surprising heart of the story) is the trio’s leader, a responsible man who is haunted by his wife’s death. The able bodied James (Gerard Butler) is a family guy who is essentially Thomas’ right hand man, and Donald (Connor Swindells) is the wet behind his ears youth.

Connor Swindells, Peter Mullan and Gerard Butler in a scene from The Vanishing, directed by Kristoffer Nyholm. CR: Saban Films

Donald’s impetuous behavior and lighthouse inexperience is an irritant to his more mature colleagues, and though the follies of youth can be corrected during on the job training, it also has severe disadvantages.

When an unopened wooden box, splintered rowboat and a dead man wash ashore, Donald climbs down (with supervision from Thomas and James) to investigate. If you’ve seen films like No Country For Old Men, A Simple Plan, and The Treasure of Sierra Madre, you’ll know what comes next.

Gerard Butler in a scene from The Vanishing, directed by Kristoffer Nyholm. CR: Saban Films

Director Kristoffer Nyholm (Taboo) makes extensive use of the island (it was shot in Galloway, located in southwest Scotland), and though the environment is a sight to behold (who wouldn’t want a staycation on a remote locale by the sea, with a lighthouse no less?), it ends up being hell on earth for these three seemingly bonded individuals.

****The Vanishing trailer gives a few plot points that I didn’t want to spoil, but if you want a bit of a primer, check it out:

Nyholm, along with writers Joe Bone and Celyn Jones, craft a bravura sequence when these men are faced with a possible threat, and the repercussions of the the incident leads us to the inevitable. Each actor delivers work that kept me glued to the screen (actually, that “screen” was my makeshift laptop), and though a bit more of the aforementioned moment would have been welcomed, credit goes to Nyholm for delivering a more humanistic (and less pulpy) approach to the material.

Butler knows his way around big budget, high profiled features (for a recent highpoint, check out his work in Den of Thieves), and it’s great to see him sink his teeth into more intimate and oftentimes deeper (at least psychologically) material. Mullan (Ozark, Top of the Lake) is an excellent anchor to the narrative as the man who’s trying to hold his group together, while newcomer Swindells basically steals the show as the trio’s wild card.

I yearned for a bit more fireworks during the movie’s final moments, but thankfully The Vanishing, blessed with a story that cuts to the bone (no pun intended), doesn’t fade into the distance.

3.5 out of 5

***The Vanishing is now playing in theaters and is available On Demand. 

***For this month’s episode of CinemAddicts, a movie review/film lovers podcast I host with Anderson Cowan, check out the Soundcloud bar below: