The Vanishing (1988)

“My daughter was bursting with pride. But I thought that her admiration wasn’t worth anything unless I could prove myself absolutely incapable of doing anything evil. And as black cannot exist without white, I logically conceived the most horrible deed that I could envision right at that moment. But I want you to know, for me killing is not the worst thing”

‘The Vanishing’, directed by George Sluizer in 1988, is a Dutch thriller based on a novella by Tim Krabbé. Gene Bervoets stars as Rex, a man whose girlfriend, Saskia, played by Johanna ter Steege, suddenly goes missing at a petrol station. Rex then obsessively hunts for the truth at the cost of his relationships with other women. Meanwhile, we see a parallel story of the kidnapper, Raymond, played by Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, as he experiments with enticing women into his car, as he works out the solution, and finally as he stalks Rex. Drawing Rex with a promise of the truth, Raymond takes him to a remote part of France where he finally finds out what happened to his girlfriend. It’s obviously a dark film as it deals with absence and sociopathic obsession. The ending is skin-crawlingly grim, but there is a surprising line of humour throughout the film. The character of Raymond, a clueless monster who we watch rehearsing his approach to both women and to members of his own family, is a chilling creation, but there is also an almost pitiable innocence to him. A close analogue to Raymond is Jame Gumb from ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ made two years later. We are allowed to see into the world of Gumb, but only from the perspective of his victims, and the character is presented as remote and obscene. Raymond has a similar modus operandi, but we are allowed a much closer relationship with him. This weirdly increases the sense of dread and horror we feel about Saskia’s disappearance. Knowing that Raymond is effectively a clueless opportunist makes it clear, not how doomed Saskia is, but rather how close she, and by association Rex, comes to avoiding their fates. The power of the film comes from this presentation of the characters, but also the way the movie is edited together. It’s an unconventional thriller with a truly chilling central performance.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it out-Hitchcock’s Hitchcock, but also does something original with the conventional crime thriller. The focus on Raymond elevates ‘The Vanishing’ to become a meditation on obsession and chance. I’d watch it in a double bill with ‘Harry, He’s Here to Help’, another central performance that gives another layer to the standard psychopath.

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