The Disappeared is a story about six men in two boats in the middle of nowhere in the Atlantic and nothing else. To your surprise, it succeeds in being entertaining.
The film begins with the six men in two boats just waking up. They range from a young twentysomething like Little Dickie to an older man like Captain Gerald. They get up and they row along to shore together. It isn’t until later we learn that the men are in lifeboats having survived a shipwreck from their fishing boat hundreds of miles from shore. In fact one is badly injured in the arm. All six stick together and row together even tying a rope to each other’s boats. They survive with little food and whatever to drink. They have to rely on fishing and hunting skills for any extra food. Sometimes the weather is unpredictable and even dangerous. Any chances of hope are either missed, a mirage or less hopeful than expected.
Things change as the wounded man becomes sicker and then dies. They first leave him in the boat with the two others but eventually becomes just one boat with the five. There are moments of closeness between some but moments of friction too even as Merv becomes downright angry and has a miserable attitude. Eventually all come to terms with what has happened and what may be. They’re still willing to chance it back to coast but they all put their last thoughts in writings in a bottle. They still continue rowing despite all hope waning. The ending ends as it does with the men rowing and still missing. It leaves imagery unclear exactly what happened to the five men. I guess that was the point of the film: for the audience to draw their own conclusion.
I have to commend the filmmakers for succeeding in making an entertaining story taking place between one or two boats, six men and nothing else but the vast ocean. The story had a lot of elements in it: humor, tragedy, drama, tense moments, moments of hope, moments that define the human spirit, sea shanties of both fun and pain, basically a lot with what they present. It was not an easy task to do, especially with it being 86 minutes in length, but it does.
I will have to admit that while watching it, I questioned the circumstances with modern thinking. Like would any of them have some sort of cellphone communication with help? Also since they’re in lifeboats, wouldn’t there be coast guard helicopters circling the ocean area looking for survivors? Yes, thoughts like those did cross my mind. Despite my modern thinking, I will admit it didn’t affect my feelings of how well played out the film was. I guess the point of the film was about human emotions during times of crises.
I have to commend writer/director Shandi Mitchell for succeeding in making a watchable entertaining film with such limits. Well done, especially since this is her first feature-length film: Yes, her! It’s also great to see a female director succeed in conveying the thoughts and emotions of Nova Scotia men on screen. She was as good at having Nova Scotia machismo down to a tee as she was at giving the male characters their own deep sensitive feelings. Great job. Also good were the acting efforts of all six men. It’s hard to say if there was one actor that stood out from the six. None of them looked like they were trying to steal the show, even though the most well-known was Billy Campbell. All of them did a very good effort in creating dimension and including character and emotion in their roles from the beginning to the end. The characters and their feelings could say a lot about us as they do about the six men. Another set of efforts worth commending.
I went to see The Disappeared on the second-last day of the VIFF. I was hoping to see a Canadian live-action feature during the festival and hadn’t yet. I’ve seen many Canadian documentaries and shorts programs but no live-action feature. This caught my attention in the VIFF programme not just for that reason but also because it was listed being from Nova Scotia. Great to see some of the smaller provinces making a contribution to Canada’s film industry this year and The Disappeared is an excellent work. It was filmed off the coast of Lunenberg and filed with financial assistance from Film Nova Scotia, TeleFilm Canada and The Movie Network/MovieCentral. It is now making its way in the Canadian film festival circuit. How much further it goes is yet to be determined.
The Disappeared accomplishes a lot with what little it has. It brings six characters in the same local into a story that’s entertaining and thought provoking. Excellent effort from all those involved.