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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film exemplifies many things I like to see in films but rarely get
enough of. Often times in Hollywood films we get interesting concepts that
never live up to their full potential. In The Vanishing we get a film that
forgoes cheap thrills and pace to examine the characters involved in a very
thought-provoking way and it manages to achieve a greater level of
creepiness than most American films would. After having first watched this
film I was looking around in all directions as I walked around and here's
One of the first things that strikes you is the music. There's a deep base
bottom and it doesn't overly-anticipate the moment but still highlights the
film with an overtone of foreboding which is just magnificent. And as this
word could apply to the film as a whole it is especially significant in the
antagonist; subtlety. Played by Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Raymond Lemorne is
a great villain because he's believable, well defined and most frighteningly
in the end we even understand him and worse yet he seems
Another thing this film has going for it is the way the film isn't told chronologically. We first see the vanishing and the desperate search in the first few hours, then we are introduced to Lemorn, peg him as the man, see his routine and see that three years have gone by. All through out the film we will skip through time for large periods. The disappearance of Saskia will be filled in over and over again until the actual events are seen through their entirety. And the last piece only falls into place at the very end. Amazingly, with this unusual structure the film is not hard to follow in the least and certainly much more intriguing then the conventional linear plot we're used to seeing in the United States. The 'reality' of these events are set up in many way by director George Sluizer. Firstly there was great used of subjective camera and the 'Zero Degree Style' common in the States is completely abandoned. The other touches of reality come as we delve into the two main characters: Rex and Raymond. Raymond, the criminal, is first only seen in a very one dimensional manner. We see him a s a fraud who seems to be scoping out the store for possible victims. Then later in the story we see him begin to formulate his plan, to perfect it over and over again. The one scene where we see him as a biology teacher is just enough to show us that these people could be anyone and can fool you so easily. There is also the scene where Rex is waiting for him at the restaurant. Rex says he's waiting for Mr. Montmejan and that happens to the waiter's name. The commonness of the name adds profound statement about the plausibility of the plot. The tension of the film is also aided by McGuffins, or botched attempts by the professor. In one scene we see him pick up a young girl, we know already that him locking the door is where he makes his move and poisons the girl but it's his daughter. He also runs into a former student of his and tried to get her in his car and we see a chilling example of how he may have escaped justice for so long for even when someone calls him on it their content to just get away. There's also the scene where Raymond is out of focus in the background as Rex looks around for him. This is also another great scene of anticipation.
Rex's relationship with Lieneke and also his quest are also quite believable. He reaches a point where all he seeks to know is the truth. The Vanishing is also greatly helped by some really good dialogue. The image of the Golden Egg as related by Saskia through her dream sort of predestines the film in a way as we'll see they both have the same fate, however, that is not a fault of the film. I firmly believe that there are only so many ways a story can end and it's not how it ends that always matters but how you got there. The Vanishing is a toned down psychological-thriller that'll get under your skin. It's a film that's had my imagination captive for a week. It's not only a prime example of a psycho-thriller but also of well-structured and executed character studies. It's a great achievement.
This film really got to me. The scariest film I've ever seen. I had a hard time sleeping after I saw it. Great filmmaking.
It's a terrifying thought, having a loved one vanish without a trace.
One moment you're together, and then you're not. You turn your head for
just a second and she's gone. Panic sets in; you check everywhere,
question everyone, go over every detail until your head hurts and still
nothing makes sense. You feel nauseous and frustrated and then the fear
settles in. It's getting dark-- now what do you do? File a missing
person's report that eventually leads nowhere. Your significant other
is reduced to a mere statistic. You wait and wait for closure, but it
never comes. Three agonizing years pass. It is now an obsession, an
obsession that consumes your entire life. There is no evidence, no
pattern and no body. Your life is put on hold until you find the
answer. The task seems daunting in that only by shear luck will you
ever know the truth. Then one day your persistence pays off and you
stumble upon a stranger, a stranger who knows something. Is he the
murderer or just a lunatic? Do you take the chance? Is the risk worth
knowing the truth? This unnerving dilemma besets the protagonist Rex in
George Sluizer's 1988 cinematic masterpiece The Vanishing. What I found
most intriguing and refreshing about this film was the seemingly benign
approach it creates allowing the terror to build gradually. The central
characters, a Dutch couple Rex and his girlfriend Saskia, are average
looking and behave in unspectacular fashion, laughing, arguing as most
couples do. They are traveling to France for a vacation.
The opening scenes establish the happy couple; an ominous turn ensues when they stop at a gas station and Saskia disappears. As Rex searches for her in panic, he learns that she was last seen leaving with another man. Three years pass and Rex is still searching. His obsession consumes him, sabotaging his relationship with another woman. Then everything switches gears, with the entire second half of the film focusing on Raymond Lemorne, the kidnapper. It seems an odd technique to use (showing the villain throughout) but it works extremely well as we examine his perspective. It is here that The Vanishing establishes itself as a thriller that will be unlike all the rest, as Raymond is presented as a frightening but complex villain. A successful teacher with a loving wife and two daughters, strange only in his dullness, his monstrous desires are nourished by the fact that he sees himself as a resident above suspicion and therefore undetectable. He's a chameleon, an everyday man, who looks like the guy next door. This is what makes this film so effective and disturbing. Here is a culprit who blends in so well he can never be caught. He is very intelligent, yet imperfect. There are scenes in this movie both comic and unsettling at the same time. We observe as Raymond acts out his kidnapping scheme, and then pitifully attempts to bait young women into his car without any luck. His plan constantly fails until he meets Saskia.
At first this film does not portray itself as suspenseful, but develops tension so calmly that by the time it is over, you're left exhausted. George Sluizer's genius direction comes from the idea of playing with the audience's nerves, letting anxiety build as we learn what ultimately happened to Saskia. Yet when the reality sets in, and the truth is revealed we almost wish the movie hadn't told us, just like Rex, who had his life destroyed by Saskia's unsolved vanishing, comes to the realization that maybe he would have been better off not knowing either. Similar to the pieces of a puzzle, the story gradually connects. It stays riveting from start to finish, psychologically absorbing the whole audience. When Raymond offers a chance for Rex to see Saskia again, he must first experience what she went through, and you're left wondering "Where the hell is this going to take us next?" The movie moves so subtly towards its shocking conclusion, that when it comes, we believe it. Unlike the usual "conventional" twist ending, The Vanishing pulls off the extremely complex act of seeming both shocking and inevitable, leaving you with a finale that will genuinely leave you numb for days.
George Sluizer's "Spoorloos" (called "The Vanishing" in English) is not
like any movie that you've ever seen. It initially focuses on the
disappearance of a Dutch tourist (Johanna ter Steege) at a gas station
and how her boyfriend (Gene Bervoets) searches for her for years...but
then it changes. The focus then shifts to the perpetrator
(Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), and we see how he leads what appears to be
the most ordinary life. He could be your best friend. And finally, the
movie's ending is a real shocker.
I read that the movie is based on an urban legend about a girl who gets separated from her mother, but then no one recalls having ever seen her mother. In that sense, the movie deals with despair. How would you cope if this happened to you? Still, what we learn about the perpetrator is what truly makes this such a good movie. It poses the question of how well anyone truly knows anyone else. There was apparently an American remake of this movie, but I'll just avoid that one. But I do recommend this one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
George Sluizer recently remade this, his own original Dutch version, in
America with Kiefer Sutherland and Jeff Bridges. A more audience
pleasing, action type film, it was quite an entertaining work.
The original is set in France as we find two young Dutch people, Rex Holfman and his 'friend' Saskia, on the way to a little hideaway in rural France. Their pleasant little getaway takes a cruel turn when Saskia disappears at a highway road stop. After a desperate three year search, Rex is confronted by Raymond, a man who claims to be the abductor.
The storyline is a lot more realistic than the re-make, with Sluizer simply using the two main characters to involve his audience, by first allowing us to obsess along with Rex about the whereabouts of his lost love, and secondly by slowly introducing us to the disturbed Frenchman Raymond.
Lead players Gene Bervoets, Johanna ter Steege and support are very good as is Sluizer's thoughtful direction, while the plot unfolds itself at a well judged pace. And the ending, which is quite different to the more recent film, is a much more suitable, believable and disturbing one. This superior 1988 Dutch movie is well worth your while.
Sunday, January 23, 1994 - Video
George Sluizer directed the brilliant, unforgettable Dutch/French
suspense flick Spoorloos aka The Vanishing (not to be confused with the
wretched 1993 American remake, which he was also directed--difficult as
that is to fathom), a potent, haunting, and impressively nuanced
thriller. . As for the original, it remains a remarkably effective
psychological thriller and an obvious influence on films as diverse as
Breakdown, Joy Ride and With a Friend Like Harry. Not to mention, the
theme of disappearance has been attempted by many great directors
(Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes), but it has never been done as spooky
as it is here. It belies how strange life is and how relevant our
The film begins with a young Amsterdam couple on vacation in the south of France. They have apparently not been together for a long time as they are still getting to know each other, getting in tune with each other's rhythms. At one point Saskia relates to Rex a terrifying recurring dream she can't explain, which really haunts her when their car runs out of gas in the middle of a deep tunnel. Later, they stop at a park for a short time, and Saskia decides to go into a convenience store to get drinks. But she never returns. After awhile, Rex naturally becomes frantic and goes to the police.
Suddenly the film shifts its focus to the story of Raymond, an ordinary family man, a teacher who is also a self-absorbed intellectual. He is obsessed with the idea of good vs. evil and sets out to experiment with the possibility that he might have an evil side he has never tapped. How Raymond's experiments tie into Saskia's disappearance makes for a fascinating game that eventually takes on cat-and-mouse proportions but does not go down the roads you will expect.
This film is so well-crafted, that it is easy to get carried away and think that more is being said than what has transpired. But in the simplicity of its story, it becomes easy to identify with the Amsterdam couple and feel caught up in their dreamworld which intermingles with their real-life. A film that is very much in the Hitchcock suspense mode.
Honestly I dint hear about the movie until I saw the top 100 horror flicks from IMDb. Once I got my hands on this one, it was a hard choice not to see it. Well the movie was a simple and good one. Definitely disturbing for the 80's but owing to too much of violence and blood splattering movies it might not be too shocking for present day audience. This movie is different from other kidnap movies because we know all the time who is involved in it. Only difference is the relentless pursuit of Saskia's boy friend to know what happened to her. Well the tension and surrealness of the situation is very nicely shown by the lead actors and panache and effortless kidnapping of saskia is amazing. Definitely a good movie, but something seriously short making it not a contender for a great movie. Still deserves a good 9/10.
I think this is one of the best European films of all time. I was a bit disappointed at first, because I thought that having to read subtitles would ruin the movie for me, but it didn't at all. Vanishing had everything: suspense, comedy, horror, a little romance, good acting, beautiful locations, a great villain and a perfect ending. The suspense had me glued to the screen the entire time and the final scene beats any ending in American motion picture history. I recommend this to any fan of Hitchcock or if you liked Psycho or American Psycho. Although I haven't seen the American remake of it, I doubt I will, because there's no such thing as a good remake of a classic like this one.
***SPOILERS*** Starting out on a summer biking vacation in France Dutch
couple Rax Hoffman and Saskia Wagter, Gene Bervoets & Johanna Ter
Steege,have their spats as the car their driving runs out of gas, in
the middle of a mountain tunnel. Rex leaving Saskia alone walks to the
nearest gas station to get a jerry can of gasoline. Coming back to the
stranded car Rex doesn't find Saskia and getting in the car and driving
out of the tunnel he sees her waiting for him outside. You get the
impression that the two are on the outs but later their back together
as if nothing happened but something terrible is about to happen to
them and it's strikes the unsuspecting couple at a time and place that
they would least expect it to.
Stopping at a crowded gas-station and food rest stop Saskia leaves Rex for what would be just a moment to buy some refreshments and is never seen or heard from again. It's as if she just stepped off the face of the earth and fell into a black hole in space. Based on the Tim Krabbe novel "The Golden Egg" the film "The Vanishing" is about how a person can come up with, and execute, the most evil acts imaginable and at the same time come across totally normal to not only himself but to everyone around him.
Raymond Lemorne, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, is a loving family man and chemistry professor but suffers from an obsession of wanting to know if the sick acts that his mind conjurer's up can also be put into practice. Since he was 16 Lemorne has had thoughts of committing murder just to see how it feels. Now in his mid 30's he's about to make his "wish" come true at the expense of Saskia Wagter but what he didn't expect is how it would effect her friend and lover Rex Hoffman.
We know from the start that Lemorne was somehow responsible for Saskia's disappearance seeing him hanging around the gas station eying her, as well as a number of other young women, before she vanished. It was the three or so years after Siskia's vanishing that got to the morbid and deranged Lemorne working overtime. It was Rex not letting Saskia's name out of the news that somehow started to get under Lemorne's skin.
Finally getting up enough courage to finally face Rex back in Holland showing him proof, Saskia's car-keys, and then getting his a** kicked in among other things. Lemeorne then gets the now somewhat sedated and curious young man to drive back with him to France to the gas station where Saskia was last seen alive by him some three years ago. We get a chilling minute-by-minute flashback to what happened to Saskia at the gas station from Lemorne himself as he cleverly got her to get in his car, in a crowded area in broad daylight, and then knocking her out with a chloroform-laced handkerchief and driving off with her.
Rex desperately wanting to find out from Lemorne what happened to Saskia goes along with his sick game of cat and mouse that leads to this dark and deserted park outside a gas station. It's where where Lemorne gives him a cup of coffee laced with sleeping pills to put Rex, who willingly goes along with it, into the same condition that he put Saskia in three years ago. Rex at first hesitates but his curiosity gets the best of him and drinks the brew falling into a deep sleep and when he awakes he finds out the truth of what happened to his beloved Saskia but at the cost of his life.
Not at all pleasant to watch "The Vanishing" is the kind of movie that leaves you both physically and mentally numb and is undoubtedly one of the most chilling horror films to come out in the last fifty or so years; rivaling such horror classics of the 1960's and 1970's like "Psycho" and "The Exorcist". The fact that "The Vanishing" is so unconventional in it's story-line and has such unique characters in it that it's for that and that very reason alone, more then anything else, the movie has had over the years such a disturbing and devastating effect on it's audiences.
I'll be brief - you need to see this twice.
1st time - with a friend who hasn't seen it either (make sure nobody tells you the ending). If either of you have the least bit of imagination, you will be chilled for days afterwards. That's chilled as in devastated...
2nd time - watch it with someone else who hasn't seen it and savour their MY GOD! ... OH NO! reaction to the ending. BUT - at the same time look for all the details that YOU missed the first time around. There are many, many clues as to what the teacher is planning.
Spoorloos, or The Vanishing with subtitles, is a magnificent film. True to the book (I sought it out, and it's well worth it), true to itself ... it doesn't cop out, no compromise.
Ten out of ten, no question.
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