The Vanishing (1988)
By: Drexl on July 12, 2003  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Nouveaux Pictures (UK).Region 2, PAL. 1.66:1 (Non-anamorphic). Dutch/French Dolby Digital Mono. English Subtitles. 102 minutes
The Movie
Director: George Sluizer
Starring: Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets, Johanna Ter Steege
Screenplay: Tim Krabbe and George Sluizer
Music: Henry Vrienten
Country:Netherlands/ France
AKA: Spoorloos; The Man Who Wanted To Know
"….in a golden egg'….'where the loneliness is unbearable."

The above quote is part of a dream related by Saskia (Johanna Ter Steege) to her partner, Rex (Gene Bervoets), while they are heading for a cycling holiday in France. After a long drive, the couple decide to take a break at a roadside service station. Rex refuels the car while Saskia goes to buy drinks for the journey ahead. Hours pass and Saskia does not return - she has disappeared without trace and without reason.

Three years later and Rex's obsession with discovering the truth has taken over his life. Driven by a promise never to abandon Saskia, the search is draining him both emotionally and financially and destroying any new relationships he may form. A plea for help, via a television appearance, leads to Rex being contacted by a man, Raymond, who says he knows of Saskia's whereabouts and claims to be responsible for her disappearance. The two men eventually meet and Rex is presented with the opportunity to discover the truth behind the mystery…

The Vanishing was a 'happy accident' in my movie-viewing life as I caught a late-night television screening of it by pure chance, knowing virtually nothing about the film. As has been said by many other reviewers, this is the best (the only) way to fully appreciate this excellent film, (first time round at least.); hence the deliberately sketchy plot rundown above.

Engrossing from start to finish and devoid of flash camera tricks etc., The Vanishing unfolds at a very slow pace, taking time to tell it's story and develop the fascinating characters involved. The viewer is placed firmly in Rex's shoes, becoming as curious as he is to know the events behind his partner's disappearance. Saskia, although she only has a short amount of on-screen time, endears herself to the viewer as a likeable, funny and charming young lady, which only makes the viewer all the more curious to know what has happened to her. Early in the film, (around ten minutes in), the character of Raymond is introduced and is slowly revealed to be a ruthless, intelligent and cruel man who is, in many ways, as obsessed as Rex is, albeit with a very different goal. (Since the viewer is shown very early on who the villain of the piece is, I'm not giving anything away here.) When the two men eventually meet, the mind games between the two characters are fascinating. Raymond slowly reveals the events behind Saskia's disappearance, and also shares events from his past life which allow Rex, and the viewer, a glimpse into the mind of a very evil man. Rex becomes increasingly frantic, torn between his desire for answers and his fear of any consequences it may hold for him. Does he place his trust in this man, or does he walk away from it all, break his promise to Saskia, leave the mystery unsolved and give up on any last hope he may have of rescuing her?

The Vanishing succeeds on many different counts; most notably the wonderful performances from the cast (especially Donnadieu as Raymond), the fascinating combination of characters and, of course, the engrossing story-line. Although the mystery is solved at the end of the movie, The Vanishing is certainly not a one-watch film, as many subtle hints and clues are only apparent upon repeat viewings, especially the recurring 'golden egg' imagery mentioned at the outset. (It's meaning is revealed at the very end of the film and is also the title of the novel which inspired this movie, written by co-screenwriter Tim Krabbe). I've lost count of the amount of times I have watched this film and, even now, I'm still spotting things that I missed on previous viewings. In fact, The Vanishing is one of those very rare movies that actually improves the more times you watch it, the finale is a shocker first time round but once you know the ending, it makes all that comes before it even more chilling and cruel when re-watching the film.

Visually the film is very easy on the eye with some nicely composed shots and the music score is sparse and creepy although, if one were being especially picky, it could be considered a touch over-dramatic at times. The Vanishing is a very elegantly constructed film with flashbacks being used to tell of events past and the focus of attention shifting between the two leads, developing their characters superbly, before they eventually meet. In fact, it's hard to find fault of any kind with this movie, (aside from the minor gripe concerning the soundtrack mentioned above), as it's all so cleverly and neatly put together. For the benefit of splatter-fans, it's worth mentioning at this point that The Vanishing is completely lacking in gore, gratuitous nudity, swearing and all the other hallmarks of the exploitation genre that this film is so far away from, so hardened gorehounds may wish to approach with caution, possibly via a rental, before shelling out for this disc. (Although I will be there to say 'I told you so' when you realise what a great film this is.)

Anyone browsing the video store with a view to picking this movie up will undoubtedly notice that there are two versions of this film available - the original version reviewed here and an English language remake with Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland in the leads. When The Vanishing came to the attention of the Hollywood money-men, Sluizer, probably in an attempt to retain creative control over his material, was convinced to re-shoot the movie for the American market. While the basic story-line remains the same, the remake suffers from weak (in comparison) performances and a lousy, tacked-on ending. Needless to say, this version should be avoided - at least until you have seen the far, far superior original. (Both versions carry the same title, so be careful!).
Nouveaux Pictures have provided a good quality transfer for this release. Daylight scenes are nice and bright and colourful with decent detail levels. The transfer loses a little bit of detail during darker scenes but it's not a major grumble. The print is almost completely free of damage and carries only minimal grain. I did spot one or two very minor coding glitches but, again, it's no big deal - don't let it put you off.
Nothing to grumble about here - a clean and clear audio track. The English subtitles are easy to read and are removable.
Extra Features
The film's European trailer is included and, although it isn't going to give too much away, I would still say leave it until after you have watched the main feature.

To complete the extras we have a director's filmography and a photo gallery consisting of grabs from the film. That's your lot I'm afraid, as far as bonus material goes - there's not even an insert in the case.
The Verdict
A superb and thoroughly engrossing movie that grabs your attention right from frame one - believe me, you will be as curious to know the truth as Rex is. The Vanishing succeeds admirably in getting under your skin without the use of cheap shocks and lashings of gore. Creepy, subtle scares are frequent throughout the movie, many of which will haunt you long after you have finished viewing - one scene in particular stayed, stuck in my head, for days after I first saw this film. Add to this the fact that you've got all those, ever more impressive, repeat viewings to look forward to…

On the downside, I will admit to being disappointed by the almost featureless disc on offer here, although some would say it is appropriate that viewers are 'on their own' with this movie. Taking into consideration the (almost) bare-bones disc, the lack of 16/9 enhancement and the minor transfer gripes, this release must, unfortunately (and grudgingly), be docked a point but…

..Those looking for classy, subtle scares and an engrossing movie experience will in no way be disappointed with the film itself, which is nothing short of outstanding and thoroughly deserving of its 'classic' tag.

Potential purchasers without PAL playback may be steered in the direction of Criterion's NTSC, USA release which is equally light on bonus materials, but is enhanced for widescreen televisions and has better cover-art.
Movie Score
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