The Vanishing is a critically acclaimed horror/thriller film from The Netherlands. The horror versus thriller distinction is a strong point of contention about this film in the same way The Silence of the Lambs is still argued about today. Both of the films are dark, disturbing stories of crimes against women where the person leading the investigation winds up in a game of wits with a super intelligent murderer. The absence of traditional paranormal or otherworldly elements, as well as gritty violence rather than exaggerated violence, plus the element of critical acclaim can sometimes reframe the genre discussion.
In the case of The Vanishing, I believe the approach to the central missing person case places it firmly in horror territory. This is a haunting film where the specter of one unfortunate day looms over every scene like the more literal ghost of a Gothic cozy.
Rex and Saskia are traveling through France to watch the climax of the Tour de France. Saskia disappears after buying drinks in a gas station convenience store. Three years later, Rex picks up the pieces of the cold case and demands a face to face meeting with her abductor.
At the same time, we meet the abductor, his family, and his methodical research into the best way to abduct a young woman. Raymond is a chemistry teacher who begins trials into the efficacy of chloroform and heart rate on his goals.
The ghost that lingers over the film is not the disappearance of Saskia but the memory of the past. The Vanishing is less a crime story than a personal haunting. Both Rex and Raymond are men obsessed with what has happened in their pasts. For Rex, it is that one day that has haunted him for three years. For Raymond, it is childhood realization that has informed every decision he has made in his life.
The Vanishing builds a horrible sense of dread as Rex and Raymond are set on a path to finally meet. The ghosts that have lingered in the background of the investigation into Saskia’s disappearance will reveal themselves in unexpected ways. What has pushed these two intelligent, even-tempered men to be on opposing sides of a missing person case? And what stops them both from from just focusing on the here and now?
This is a highly unsettling film. The goal of the suspense is not to build excitement or intrigue. This is a story of dread and foreboding. The weight of the past, which we know so little about, starts to suffocate everyone in the present. It’s a non traditional haunting in large outdoor spaces anyone could easily escape from. These two men cannot until they let the past run its course.