The Vanishing (1988)

This review contains SPOILERS!
George Sluizer's "The Vanishing" is not the movie you're expecting. It seems like something of a predecessor to "The Forgotten" or some other such pulp, cheap nonsense; but that's not what it is. To call it a precisely machined thriller is a misnomer, because the film itself is not terribly suspenseful, nor does it try to throttle its viewer with scares; but there is something innately disturbing about the film and how it treats its subject matter with poise and with frustrating withdrawal.
"The Vanishing" starts with Rex (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia (Johanna ter Steege) on a road trip. They are traveling when they run out of gas in the middle of a tunnel and after a quick and rather emotional fight, Rex abandons Saskia in the tunnel to go get gas. Once reunited, they continue on their way with this wall between them. Eventually apologies are said and the couple make up before coming to a rest stop, the last one before their final leg of the journey.
Saskia goes inside a gas station to buy a few drinks and she never comes out. After a while, Rex goes to investigate and finds her missing, vanished. Now panicked, he tries to think of every possible situation and the one that makes the most sense to him is that Saskia has been kidnapped. He circulates this thought with the people around him and they all roll their eyes at him. It would be impossible for the police to get involved this early.
And then the film switches characters to Raymond (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) and we're stuck on him for a very long time. Although by all rights Saskia and Rex are the two leads of the movie, it's Raymond who is the most complex character that burns up the most screen time. There's a very simple reason for this: he did it.
We're not exactly sure what he did with Saskia but every scene with him suggest something more and more nefarious until the audience has conjured up something far nastier than a film could ever produced...and I think that was the intention. By letting us see the bad guy so early on in the film, the suspense comes from a place of hesitancy for gore. We don't want to know and yet Rex's passion for the truth makes it impossible for us to desire anything but the story.
"The Vanishing" is a fractured story, it's timeline rarely ever linear, but this is half the enjoyment. The movie skips over large chunks of time, spirals back on the narrative, and then switches characters quick as a flash. It's like the audience is the baton in a relay race, it's almost dizzying at times; but always effective.
The only thing that is glaringly out of place for the movie is the music. Henny Vrienten's score is nothing short of a disaster here. It's never chilling or evocative, instead just being some Vangelis-wannabe. The experimental nature of the score could have been gold, but I found it more distracting than anything else (I made the same complaint about Vangelis' score for "Blade Runner" but whatever...).
As Saskia, who actually is featured very little in the film itself, but hold such a power of its, Johanna ter Steege is remarkable. She's charming, beautiful, clumsy, passionate, and fascinating. It is no wonder that Rex is so transfixed by her and how he refuses to let her go in his memory.
"The Vanishing" is a well-paced movie that actually features very little flash-and-bang for something that would now be remade into a shitstorm of weird edits and jump scares. It's a little snapshot of cinema history, a well-told tale, and a analysis on the psyche of insanity and sanity. It's quite good.

Score: ★★★½

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