The Vanishing (1988): Performance driven 1980’s Psychodrama hits hard

Not only a stark reminder of why I don’t like going on holiday, but The Vanishing also provides a tightly wound adaptation of a book I haven’t read. My aversion to reading Tim Krabbé’s apparently excellent The Golden Egg and holiday making aside, The Vanishing is arguably the most popular directed piece from one George Sluizer, who you may remember directing an awful remake of the same name with Jeff Bridges some years after this Dutch classic first released. Detailing the feverish, horrified obsession our leading character, Sluzier treats us to a nicely spun thriller of haunting proportions. Shadowy figures, a need for closure and a motive shrouded in relative confusion and dread-inducing fear, The Vanishing is a striking thriller that manages to keep itself away from the more conventional notions of the genre world.

With some relatively sharp dialogue throughout, The Vanishing is, on the whole, a rather strong thriller that plays into its strengths as much as it can. It makes for generally good viewing, seeing such prominently great writing on display is always a treat, especially when it can be taken to the next level by a committed cast. Gène Bervoets’ leading performance as Rex captures the desperation so perfectly, the rush of fear that overwhelms his character as he realises his loved one is missing. Bervoets manages to present a character that has been eaten away entirely by the loss of his girlfriend, Saskia (Johanna ter Steege). Robbed of the ability to give her one final farewell, opportunity knocks and it showcases just how far away Rex is from really moving on. It’s a marvellous leading performance, and makes for such intense viewing, with a character that is both relatively easy to like, but also has clear motives and arguably natural reactions. 

Strong performances are no stranger to The Vanishing. In particular, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu is an incredible addition to the cast. His role as Raymond Lermone is by far the most interesting aspect of the film. He eclipses the mysterious disappearance that shows a methodical, planned out scenario. We receive an abundance of flashbacks to his time training himself and learning, just so he can carry out the perfect crime. His motive initially seems be to motivated by the fact that he does whatever he wants because he can, his ability to do so is the sole object of his obsession, but as the film unravels, the twists, turns and inevitable revelations his character seems to go through put The Vanishing leagues above any of its contemporaries. 

I don’t think I could quite mention any other thriller that has the same feeling as this Sluzier crafted journey. It’s quite unlike anything the genre has offered me so far, which is rather odd since disappearances are a rather common trope throughout the more popular moments of the genre. Still, it’s nice to see that Sluzier’s direction can avoid some of the more conventional and predictable moments you would come to expect from a late 1980s thriller. It’s not without issue though, and some of the supporting characters feel rather underdeveloped. Lieneke (Gwen Eckhaus), in particular, feels wholly underwhelming. It’s a real shame too, with the few scenes she receives feeling rather detrimental to expanding upon the mindset Rex finds himself in. It’s a shame there isn’t more of this, but the film gets by on the one or two moments provided by Eckhaus’ underrated, but thoroughly enjoyable performance. 

Sluzier’s direction is tremendous, a well-presented film that both looks great and keeps together relatively well. By far the biggest issue to come from The Vanishing is the pacing, which, while it may be faithful to the book, doesn’t translate all that well to the adaptation. Moments throughout that could’ve used some much greater expansion or time are forgotten about. Thankfully, the main relationship at the core of the film, and the fallout to come from the disappearance, is more than enough to keep The Vanishing from falling into predictable mediocrity. Two leading performances that strive for perfection miss their mark ever so slightly, but they spar well with one another in a climax that makes the slow-paced build-up well worth it. 

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Ewan Gleadow

Ewan's first time at the cinema was as a four year old, crying his way through Elf. That set a precedent for his viewing experiences, and developed into a film criticism journey that has taken him to University to study film journalism. Reviewing just about anything and everything that gets released, there's no quality filter to what he'll be watching.

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