CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: GEORGE SLUIZER / SCREENPLAY: TIM KRABBÉ / STARRING: BERNARD-PIERRE DONNADIEU, GENE BERVOETS, JOHANNA TER STEEGE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
This Dutch thriller was an arthouse sensation back in the late 1980s. The reviews were ecstatic, word of mouth made it a hit, Kubrick said it was the scariest film he'd ever seen and it’s director made a Hollywood remake a few years later, starring Jeff Bridges. Now released on Blu-ray, The Vanishing's reputation has a lot to live up to. Has it stood the test of time?A young Dutch couple, Saskia and Rex, driving through France on holiday bickering, laughing and narrowly avoid a near disaster when they run out of petrol in a long dark tunnel, an experience that reminds them both of how much they mean to each other. With their love rekindled, they stop at a busy service station and Saskia (award-winning Johanna Ten Steege) goes to browse inside the shops. And vanishes. She just doesn't come back.
And it's at this point, following a fantastic set up, that The Vanishing soars. Deconstructing the standard thriller narrative, the next section of the film takes us inside the life and motivations of Saskia's abductor, the terrifyingly normal family man, chemistry teacher, and self-diagnosed sociopath, Raymond (a chillingly brilliant performance from Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu). We see him plan for the crime, prepare himself with meticulous detail, rehearse, fail and, eventually, succeed. Three years later, Rex, (Gene Bevoets), still obsessed with finding out what happened to his wife, is contacted by someone offering to reveal all but at a terrifying cost.
The fact that The Vanishing is not a whodunit but a howdunit makes for a wonderfully satisfying, insightful thriller. And as it hurtles towards its gripping, compelling conclusion, it becomes a hugely disturbing and believable one, too.As a study of obsession, it's brilliant; balancing both Rex's obsession to find out what happened to Saskia with Raymond's obsession with planning and carrying out an act of pure evil, simply because he can. Raymond is as chilling a villain as was ever put to film. His emotionless, methodical piecing together of the jigsaw of this horrific act is an exercise in problem solving and director George Sluizer and screenwriter Tim Krabbé do an incredible job of making us, the audience, enjoy that process whilst knowing it’s for horrific intent. And so good is the film at understanding obsession that, when faced with a seemingly impossible choice, the audience totally understands the one that Rex makes.
The film is also superb at showing how much chance plays a role in all of our lives. We see the women who are nearly Raymond's victim, the lives that are nearly ruined. Saskia and Rex aren't special, they weren't chosen. They were just there, and that means it could be any one of us, something that stays with you after the upsetting climax.
There are no extras on this release and the transfer isn't great, but who cares when The Vanishing lives up to its reputation so brilliantly?