REVIEW: DVD Release: The Vanishing

Film: The Vanishing
Release date: 9th April 2003
Certificate: 15
Running time: 106 mins
Director: George Sluizer
Starring: Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets, Johanna ter Steege, Gwen Eckhaus, Bernadette Le Saché
Genre: Thriller/Mystery/Crime/Drama
Studio: Umbrella
Format: DVD
Country: Netherlands/France

Originally based on the novel The Golden Egg, The Vanishing (Spoorloos) wants the audience to question the choices they’ve made in life, and whether they are really ever in control.

The film follows Rex Hofman as he searches for his girlfriend Saskia after a fateful stop at a petrol station in France. After half and hour, Saskia fails to return with the drinks, and the mystery that will consume Rex begins.

Rex becomes completely obsessed with the search for Saskia, and even after three years, he is still putting up posters in the streets and appealing for information on television. But this obsession is helped along by the abductor Raymond Lemorne, who goads Rex with postcards telling him he would like to meet with him…

The film does not follow a linear pattern which helps build up the mystery and intrigue of it. When Saskia disappears at the beginning of the film, we are unsure as to the reasons behind it, although we are given three clues. The first is the suspicious man in a sling standing at the entrance of the shop Saskia enters, with the camera centring on him in a brief but clearly purposeful way. The second is the discarded drinks lying in the road, one crushed by the wheel of a car. And the third clue, which is the only one Rex seems to acknowledge, is a Polaroid he took of Saskia leaving the shop after purchasing the drinks, walking back to the car but, obviously, not arriving.

What really distinguishes the film is Sluzier’s skill at portraying Raymond as an extremely intelligent and calculating man. After the abduction, the camera takes the audience back to the planning stages of the abduction, and shows Raymond’s meticulous attention to detail. He records the exact time it takes for the chlorophyll he applies to himself to wear off, how far he can travel in this time, and even mimes to himself the way he will drug his eventual victim. What makes the film disturbing is the calm and business manner Raymond goes about this, making it appear more mundane than murderous. Coupled with the fact that Raymond has a family, and leads a seemingly normal professional life, it paints a chilling picture of the humans that have slipped through the net in society.

When Rex eventually meets up with the self-proclaimed sociopath Raymond, he is very much still plagued by the deep sense of curiosity he first felt at the beginning of the film. It is to become his downfall, but there is an acute sense of desperation, and a sadness to him that reveals he is almost willing to forfeit his life for knowledge of Saskia. Raymond acknowledges this and plays Rex like a pawn in his elaborate and sinister game of chess. Raymond knows his safety and control over the meeting is ensured, and subtly persuades the tortured Rex to drink coffee laced with sleeping pills. Rex is aware of the drugged drink, but is told that in order to find out what happened to Saskia, he must share her fate exactly. What follows is one of the most shocking conclusions yet committed to film, if extremely satisfying.

The Vanishing is deliberately slow paced, at times frustrating, but building up the curiosity of both the audience and Rex as the film progresses. The more we know, the more we want to know, thus it requires an unusual amount of patience on the part of the audience as the mystery unravels. But this patience is eventually rewarded, and is well worth suffering the dated music and slightly wooden acting of Gene Bervoets, who plays Rex.

Raymond is a character who reminds us that the world is made up of unhinged people whose mindset, and whose motivation makes them impossible for many to comprehend. He does not commit evil acts for money or love, but to prove to himself that he is in control of his life, and that he is capable of great contrasting acts - loving his family and saving a drowning girl on the one hand, but equally capable of great acts of evil.

George Sluzier’s 1988 thriller The Vanishing is a masterpiece, with the ability to root viewers to their seats. BR

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