A young man embarks on an obsessive search for the girlfriend who mysteriously disappeared while the couple were taking a sunny vacation trip, and his three-year investigation draws the attention of her abductor, a mild-mannered professor with a diabolically clinical mind. An unorthodox love story and a truly unsettling thriller, Dutch filmmaker George Sluizer's 'The Vanishing' unfolds with meticulous intensity, leading to an unforgettable finale that has unnerved audiences around the world.
One of the biggest problems with horror movies these days is that mainstream Hollywood (and, sadly, many moviegoers) equate 'scary' with how much blood is spilled on-screen. With director George Sluizer's 'The Vanishing', viewers get a real idea of what horror is like, without a drop of blood or much in terms of violence being seen by the viewer. Yet the film, for many – including the legendary Stanley Kubrick, who reportedly watch the movie over 10 times and told Sluizer it was the scariest movie he ever watched – 'The Vanishing' is the very definition of 'horror film'.
The movie opens by introducing us to a young couple, Rex (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia (Johanna ter Steege), who are traveling across country in a car. Since most going into the movie already know Saskia's fate (and, of course, the title of the film is a giveaway), viewers spend the opening scenes with a sense of doom about the character, wondering when she'd going to disappear. When their car breaks down in a dark tunnel, we think for sure that's when Saskia will vanish, but it actually happens later…and in broad daylight, as she disappears while the couple is stopped at a busy roadside gas station/convenience store.
What sets Sluizer's movie apart from a hundred other kidnapper/serial killer films out there is in his depiction of the villain, Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu). Lemourne is far from the typical movie psychopath/sociopath. In fact, he's a family man who also happens to be a science teacher. He's the guy next door that you'd never suspect was hiding a dark secret, and Donnadieu plays him brilliantly, giving 'The Vanishing's killer/kidnapper an almost matter-of-fact attitude to his every action. One might say he almost garners a bit of sympathy for the character…and he might have if his actions weren't so despicably evil.
'The Vanishing' was also one of the first thrillers not to tell its story in chronological order. After the disappearance of Saskia, the movie spends time going back in time to show how Lemorne developed into the evil person that he is. The movie also jumps forward three years to show Rex as a man who can't get on with his life because he's so obsessed with what has happened in the past.
It's obsession that fuels the second half of the movie. Rex is so focused on finding out what happened to Saskia, that he destroys any chance of happiness for himself. Unfortunately, Rex's rather public search to find out what happened gets the attention of Lemorne, who finally reveals himself and tells Rex that he'll be more than happy to explain to him what happened to Saskia…for a price. While I wouldn't dare reveal here what Lemorne's offer is (nor what happens to Rex in the movie's closing moments), there does seem to be an underlying message here about how wanting to get closure to a past event isn't always the most healthy thing in the world.
'The Vanishing' has certainly had its influence on other thrillers and the depiction of movie villains over the past couple of decades. Even Sluizer himself couldn't resist the temptation to do a Hollywood version of The Vanishing, although both critics and moviegoers alike agree that the mainstream version is very much the lesser compared to the original movie. So even though much of what takes place in this film may seem familiar to newcomers, there's little doubt that 'The Vanishing' remains an original, terrifying piece of cinema that still holds up and is worthy of repeat viewings.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Vanishing' appears on Blu-ray in the standard Scanavo keepcase that we're used to seeing from Criterion. The case houses the single dual-layer 50GB disc on the inside right, with quad-fold insert featuring an essay by Variety writer Scott Foundas tucked into the insert holders on the inside left. The reverse side of the slick (seen from inside the case) shows a chapter listing on the inside left. There are no front-loaded trailers on the Blu-ray, and the main menu consists of video of a single burning flame (a huge spoiler for those familiar with the film, an odd menu image for those who are not) with menu selections along the left of the screen in the same standard form Criterion uses on all of their releases.
This Blu-ray release is Region A locked.
Full of detail, yet maintaining a grain-filled and very film-like look, Criterion has done a very nice job with this new digital transfer of 'The Vanishing'. There's a very warm look to the movie, yet it never really falls into the realm of 'softness', and almost (but not quite) every scene has a level to clarity to it that one would expect in an HD transfer. About the only scenes that do suffer are those that take place at night (or the scene early in the movie that takes place in a tunnel) where black levels aren't the best and crush creeps into the picture. Much of this, of course, is intended by the director and the fact that viewers can't distinguish anything in the darkness reflects the intent of the filmmakers.
While the picture has been cleaned up nicely, there are a few occasions of dirt/debris that occasionally are noticeable – particularly against bright and stationary backgrounds. For the most part, though, the image is free from any frequent distraction. I did, however, note at least two instances in the film (and there may be a few more that I missed) where the image 'jumps', most likely indicating that the source print was missing a number of frames. The most obvious instance of this comes late in the movie during a flashback with the character of Saskia, when she's going to get change at the counter inside the gas station.
So, other than a few small issues, this is a very nicely done HD transfer of the film.
There's really not much to say about the 1.0 LPCM Dutch mono track for 'The Vanishing', other than the fact that its serviceable and gives a proper representation of the original track that appeared in theaters – assuming one was ever close to a theater where 'The Vanishing' was actually playing. This newly remastered track is free of any annoying hissing, popping or other defects, but there does seem to be a slight 'muddiness' to the dialogue that results in things not sounding quite as crisp or clear as one might hope.
Of course, for those of us not fluent in either Dutch or French, English subtitles have been provided.
It's pretty easy to look at 1988's 'The Vanishing' and see how it's influenced many movie thrillers since then. By essentially making the bad guy the lead role, director George Sluizer weaves a story of both obsession and dread all the way to its shocking (but nevertheless completely satisfying) conclusion. Even if you're the type that isn't drawn to subtitled foreign flicks, 'The Vanishing' is a great piece of entertainment. Recommended.