A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Vanishing (George Sluizer, 1988)

Nightmarish without being in the least surreal, The Vanishing frightened me more than any horror movie ever has. It's a film about the dangers of curiosity and commitment -- double-edged virtues. A Dutch couple, Rex Hofman (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia Wagter (Johanna ter Steege) are vacationing in France, bickering a bit as couples do. When they run out of gas in the middle of a mountain tunnel, a precarious situation, Rex sets out to get some more, leaving a protesting Saskia behind. When he returns with a can of gas, she's not with the car, but this turns out to be only a temporary "vanishing" -- she's waiting at the side of the road when he emerges from the tunnel. They agree that they both overreacted to the situation -- in fact, the quarrel seems to have made their bond stronger. They reach a rest stop where Rex fills up the tank as well as the emergency canister and Saskia goes to buy drinks -- and never returns. Three years later, Rex is still obsessed with finding Saskia, to the dismay of his new girlfriend, Lieneke (Gwen Eckhaus). Meanwhile, we meet the man responsible for Saskia's disappearance, Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), and watch as Raymond sets a trap into which Rex is lured by his own desire to know what happened to Saskia. (The French title, L'Homme qui voulait savoir -- The Man Who Wanted to Know -- is particularly on point where the crux of the movie is concerned.) The film works by setting up the conventions of the mystery thriller, then subverting them by revealing the identity of the kidnapper and the mechanisms by which he accomplishes his crime. Only the final horror of what Raymond has done with Saskia is withheld until the very end. The performances of Donnadieu and Bervoets go a long way to making the film credible, but it is chiefly the ingenuity of Sluizer's adaptation of the novel by Tim Krabbé that lifts it out of the ordinary. It is a cold-hearted movie that never spares the audience.