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The Vanishing Review

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Three years after the disappearance of his girlfriend from a service station, the still obsessed Rex Hoffman, receives some postcards from someone who claims to be her abductor, saying that is willing to reveal what happened to her. The writer, Raymond Lemorne, however, is playing a horribly sinister game.

★★★★

A fantastically gripping and ultimately hugely disturbing Dutch thriller built around the very human torment of uncertainty — the agony of not knowing. It is also one successful enough to reap a chance to be remade, with its director intact, in Hollywood employing Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland over the local originals. A version that foolishly soft-peddles the story’s grand reveal.

While there are the thriller staples of the psycho and the innocent kids under threat, George Sluizer is intent on investigating the psychological impulses inherent in both villain and survivor. Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu’s Raymond is man divorced from emotion, and in his own head therefore, culpability for his actions or compassion for his fellow man. Yet, in a sickeningly eerie development, he has what seems a perfectly normal family life, with Sluzier focussing on the mundanity of his existence while we know he is on a chilling quest — the same as his director, to investigate how people deal with uncertainty and fear, to reduce his horrific, sociopathic actions to a science. It is a form of God-complex, we come to understand, a chance to break free of the predestination drummed into him as a child. In an about face from usual thriller principles, such motives are revealed early on, it is his actions that will be kept secret, ready to spring on us with stunning precision.

As the dupe, the tortured man desperate at least to understand to get closure on the loss of his girlfriend, Gene Bervoets’ Rex, is a mess of fragged emotion, he is so weak, he becomes putty in Raymond’s cold hands. And, amid grey, mordant images, an ordinary world harbouring deep, deep levels of menace, the film will wend its way to a conclusion that has become legend. The answer to what happened, impossible for us to reveal here, is devastating for character and watcher alike, enough to send you reeling, and to flood your nightmares with some very primal panics. Be warned.

Unsurprisingly the Dutch original surpasses the American adaptation with the shocking ending proving to be much more rewarding pre-Hollywood treatment. Chilling, eerie and atmospheric, this film genuinely scares as opposed to merely wasting two hours of your time, like the 1993 version.

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