The Vanishing is a tale of two men. One of them is a mild-mannered family man, a chemistry teacher named Raymond Lemorne who is adored by his two young daughters. The other man is a wild-eyed fellow, a bachelor named Rex Hofman who is incapable of forming long-term relationships with women. One of the two men is also a sociopath who kidnaps and kills women. Guess who the madman is, Raymond or Rex?
The movie begins with the roadside abduction of Saskia (Johanna ter Steege), Rex’s lover and a girl who is entirely too trusting of strangers. Rex is understandably distraught when Saskia seems to simply vanish, and he proceeds to devote his life to an obsessive search for her. But just when it looks like The Vanishing is headed down an all-too-familiar, track-down-the-killer storyline, director George Sluizer surprises us by shifting the film’s focus to good citizen Raymond.
There are more twists in store, but The Vanishing is unusual in other ways. For one thing — shattering the stereotype of nubile, female victims in most American slasher flicks — Steege’s Saskia is friendly and likable. In her scant 15 minutes of screen time, the actress makes the audience fear for her safety.
On the other end of the personality spectrum, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu’s sociopathic Raymond will make you think twice before ever lending a quarter to a stranger. Raymond doesn’t seem like he’d harm a fly. However, as he explains: “When I was 16, I discovered something … a slight abnormality in my personality, imperceptible to those around me.” Raymond recognized his own mental illness, his difference from others. Now he requires unusual stimulation and has discovered an all-consuming, if antisocial, “hobby.”
To Raymond’s way of thinking, kidnapping is just another chemistry experiment. The suspense in The Vanishing boils down to one question: Which will prevail, Rex’s determination to learn the truth about Saskia’s fate, or Raymond’s calculated game? Although I don’t completely buy into one character’s fateful decision near the end of the movie, there’s no doubt that the consequences of that decision are truly horrifying. Grade: B+
Director: George Sluizer Cast: Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets, Johanna ter Steege, Gwen Eckhaus, Bernadette Le Sache Release: 1988
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