April 24, 2012

The Vanishing (1988)
Grade: 50/100

Director: George Sluizer
Stars: Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets, Johanna ter Steege

What it's about. A tense and disturbing crime drama and thriller set primarily in France. Raymond (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) appears to be an ordinary professor and family man, but he is fact a Ted Bundy-type sociopath who plots at length the kidnapping and murder of a total stranger, preferably an attractive young woman.

His victim is Saskia (Johanna ter Steege), a Dutch tourist he encounters at a gas station during the Tour de France. Her sudden absence bewilders and bedevils her well-intentioned but thick-headed boyfriend Rex (Gene Bervoets), who spends three years searching for the woman, encouraged by vaguely promising postcards anonymously sent to him by Raymond.

The thrill-seeking Raymond arranges a meeting with Rex, where he promises to reveal the fate of Saskia (as if it wasn't already obvious). Because Rex is so thick-headed, he goes along with Raymond's scheme despite regular exasperated outbursts, with predictable results.

The source novel was written by Tim Krabbé, who also wrote the screenplay.

How others will see it. This generally acclaimed Dutch-produced film did well at European awards festivals but was ignored by the Academy Awards and BAFTA. Its success led to a widely panned American remake in 1993. The original 1988 movie continues to be highly regarded, with a user rating of 7.9 at imdb.com.

However, the grades decline from those over 45, with a sizeable gender gap for that demographic (7.4 from men versus 6.0 from women). Presumably, older women react to the film with revulsion. They probably would prefer it if Rex had beaten Raymond to death at some point.

How I felt about it. This thoroughly unpleasant movie raises two questions. Why is Rex so stupid, and why isn't Raymond in prison? Message board chatter provides innumerable lengthy explanations and/or excuses, but the bottom line is, it's a movie, and events will play out however the director wants them to.

Beyond the characters, their motivations, and their outcomes, is there anything of interest in the movie? Only reminders to use common sense. Don't enter a stranger's car, try not to murder people for a thrill, and above all else, don't knowingly ingest drugs offered to you by an admitted sociopath who plans to kill you. Also, avoid penny stocks, extended warranties, and door-to-door salesmen.

Evidence that this might not be such a good film is aplenty. The remakes in 1993 and 2007 were flops, as was the only other filmed adaptation of a Krabbé novel, De grot (2001). Although George Sluizer is not a top-tier director, he is competent, and Johanna ter Steege is a first-rate actress.

The problem appears to be with the story. There are two main characters, one of which is too stupid to be believed, while the other is too criminally insane to have long-term success in a career or as a family man. True, sociopaths sometimes make a fortune in the business world, but though they are financially predatory, they are not violent.