Unlike the 1993 American version, George Sluizer’s 1988 film “The Vanishing” delicately, yet harrowingly, follows the theme of obsession in the lives of a man determined to defy predestination through the act of abducting a young woman and the woman’s relentless boyfriend who is resolved to uncover her fate at a rest stop three years ago.
The truly remarkable aspect of “The Vanishing” is its ability to continually capture the attention of the viewer through its deceptively simple story. While the film revolves around Rex Hofman’s pursuit of what happened to his girlfriend, Saskia Kagter, “The Vanishing,” at its best moments, turns from this main storyline to explore the underlying thoughts and emotions of its characters. Additionally, the numerous interactions between Rex and Saskia’s abductor, Raymond Lemorne, through posters and television, work delightfully well in augmenting the already disturbing mood of the film. Raymond’s meticulous recording of his efforts to abduct a woman, including his self-induced experiments on how long different amounts of chloroform can affect the length of sedation, instantly invokes a Poe-like version of the archetypal mad scientist, but, more disconcertingly, places the audience in the position of voyeur or, at best, helpless observer.
Truly, nothing is quite as disturbing as watching Raymond practice his modus operandi on his daughter, and, even more so, on himself.
But, this is where the film finds its worth – in exploiting not only the tension between Rex and Raymond but between the characters and the viewer as well. After the audience learns that Raymond captures Saskia, an announcer in an interview with Rex states that a murderer may be in a scene that the police recorded, and Raymond’s daughter remarks “Daddy, look! There we are!” The believability of the girl’s utterance only underscores the dark humor of the scene and adds to the uneasy relationship with the audience that permeates the length of the film.
In another scene, Raymond and his family, while gathering for dinner around a table outside of his recently-purchased home, are seemingly startled by the sight of multiple spiders crawling around a drawer in the table. After his daughter screams, Raymond compliments his daughter’s scream, and asks for another, which causes a screaming competition of sorts around the dinner table. Later, Raymond asks his neighbor whether he heard any of the screams, and secretly smiles when he learns that he did not. The fact that Raymond uses his family to test the isolation of his home for his homicidal intentions makes this scene and the rest of the film worth watching.
By prolonging the tension throughout the entire movie, “The Vanishing” successfully establishes itself as a provocative thriller.
The film “Brass Unbound” by Johan van der Keuken will play at the George Eastman House at 5 p.m. on Nov. 14, and “The Vanishing” will play at 8 p.m. “The Vanishing” is part of the “Human Dutch: Films from the Netherlands” series, which continues through December.
Schnee can be reached at email@example.com.