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The Vanishing   A-

The Criterion Collection

Year Released: 1988 (USA: 1991)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: George Sluizer
Writer: Tim Krabbé (based on his novel The Golden Egg)
Cast: Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets, Johanna ter Steege, Gwen Eckhaus.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

I haven't seen the 1993 remake of The Vanishing, starring Kiefer Sutherland, Jeff Bridges, and Sandra Bullock. After watching the genuinely chilling Dutch original made only five years prior, I don't want to. I have a good idea of how the remake was Hollywoodized and dumbed down for American audiences who, movie studios insist, like their movies neatly packaged into familiar formulas. Well, the original is anything but formulaic, though I've been told the remake screws up and changes everything that made The Vanishing such a memorable, effective thriller in the first place. And to think that the same director, George Sluizer, is at the helm of both the Dutch original and the Hollywood remake.

The setup of The Vanishing finds a Dutch couple, Rex and Saskia, embarking on a vacation in France. They get into an argument, but they make up and things are okay again. They stop at a gas station and Saskia (Johanna ter Steege) goes inside to get a couple of cold drinks, while Rex (Gene Bervoets) waits at the car, just as happy a camper as can be, now that they've made up and all. He never sees her again.

I'm not ruining anything by revealing that she's abducted by a family man and professor named Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) -- the last person anyone would expect to be a kidnapper or murderer. After the harrowing setup (in which his identity is revealed early on), the film begins to explore this self-proclaimed sociopath's life in intimate detail. If we didn't know better, we'd have no reason not to like the guy. He seems to be a good father to his two daughters and a decent husband to his wife, even though she has suspicions that he's cheating on her.

What drives the story -- and Rex's obsessive three-year search for Saskia or the person behind her disappearance -- is this: What exactly happened to her? Rex says that he'd rather know every detail about her death than remain unsure of whether or not she might still be alive.

Director George Sluizer manages to keep the suspense building even while we know the abductor's identity and have a vague idea of what happened to Saskia. Sluizer doesn't rely on traditional thriller mechanics to build suspense, instead focusing on turning the film's villain into a believable (albeit very sick and disturbed) human being and exploring the depth of the protagonist's obsession for finding out the truth. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu deserving much kudos for his nonchalant, wholly disturbing portrayal of a normal guy who happens to harbor some very dark secrets.

The Vanishing is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection in a beautiful widescreen digital transfer with a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. It's subtitled in English. The only extra on the disc is the theatrical trailer, but I'm not sure I'd want any revealing extras coupled with this movie anyway. That might be at the risk of the film losing some of its haunting mystique. Or maybe that's just me.

In any case, this movie should be a welcome change for anyone jaded with all the conventional Hollywood psycho-thrillers and want something a bit more realistic, haunting, and resonant: something that won't leave you once the end credits start to roll. If the ending of this movie doesn't hit you the first time around, watch it again and see if it sinks in deeper. This is a movie that gets more disturbing and tragic the more you think about it. It's all the more unsettling because people like Raymond Lemorne exist and do things like this every day. So forget every movie you've seen with a boogeyman-type monster wreaking havoc. The Vanishing is a true horror film, with a monster who just might be someone you know.

Review published 10.26.2001.

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