filmmaker George Sluizer suddenly passed away quite recently—September 20—so it
is a quite fitting, albeit unplanned, tribute that The Criterion Collection has
re-issued a new 4K restoration on Blu-ray. The
Vanishing (original Dutch title: Spoorloos)
is Sluizer’s best known work. Not only was the 1988 original picture, presented
here, an international success and now something of a cult film, Hollywood
remade the movie in 1993 with American actors—but with Sluizer directing again.
It was not a success; its chief sin was changing the ending to a happy
one. It completely destroyed the message
and power that the original picture had and still exhibits.
The Vanishing straddles a line
between a crime thriller and a horror film. The shocking finale easily belongs
in the latter category—it is horrific indeed. Sluizer plays a clever trick on the audience by giving us two POVs to
follow—and the character we’re really meant
to follow is not the one you’d expect. Is this the victim’s story or the
perpetrator’s story? The movie starts
with the former, but by the end it’s the latter’s. Does it matter? Perhaps.
is a story of how we take our everyday lives for granted until it’s changed in
an instant by chance. We’re all playing the lottery of life... and death. Saskia
(Johanna der Steege in a small but significant role) didn’t count on running
into Raymond Lemorne (frighteningly played by the late Bernard-Pierre
Donnadieu) at a highway rest stop crowded with travelers. She didn’t count on
meeting a man who discovered he was a sociopath at a young age and relished that
fact by spending his days rehearsing for the moment when he would kidnap a
random woman. Lemorne displays true evil but hides it well, for he is a
respectable middle-class employed man, married to a devoted wife (although she
suspects her husband of having affairs) and two teenage daughters. After
several trial runs and botched attempts, the sociopath succeeds at drugging and
abducting a woman—who by accident happens to be Saskia. What he plans to do
with his victim after the kidnapping is a secret kept from the audience until
the picture’s final moments.
boyfriend, Rex (Gene Bervoets), is a bit of a jerk at first. Early in the film
he leaves her alone in the car while it’s dangerously stuck inside a dark
tunnel, the point being that this is a man who takes his life for granted and
needs a firm kick in the arse. But when Saskia simply vanishes under the noses
of dozens of people, Rex changes his tune and realizes what it truly is that’s important.
The Vanishing is also about unexpected,
random violence. It can happen anywhere—even at a conspicuously “safe” convenience store and
petrol station crowded with families in the middle of the day. This is scary
stuff, folks, and Sluizer’s direction is of high caliber from the early tension
of the tunnel sequence, through Rex’s cat-and-mouse game with Lemorne, to the
final terrifying roll of the dice—for Rex must surely make a serious gamble to
find out what really happened to Saskia.
Dutch/French film is subtitled; the images look fabulous on Blu-ray. The disc
is short on extras—only two recent interviews with the late director and
actress der Steege. Critic Scott Foundas writes the booklet’s fine essay on the
of the best thrillers of the 80s, The
Vanishing would make good Halloween night viewing. Grab it now!