If there’s something I love it’s movies that grip you with their opening sequences. They bring such immediate pleasure as your initial decision to check them out instantly becomes the right one. The Vanishing is a highly underrated nineties psychological thriller about a very unusual serial killer. In fact, the man is technically not a serial killer at all but for all intents and purposes, he fucking is. The movie is based on a 1984 novel The Golden Egg by Tim Krabbé. And this is actually the second adaptation of that novel, after an underground cult classic 1988 Spoorloos. Film critics loved the movie along with Stanley Kubrick who thought it was the most terrifying film he had ever seen.
I think this is the reason why the American remake didn’t go so well with the film crowd. It wasn’t as raw and as subversive, firmly staying in the mainstream realm. At least when it comes to the storytelling. I did try to watch the original movie and I simply could not get past the opening 30 minutes. Something was so terribly off and I could not immerse myself in the story. The Vanishing, 1993 edition, is a movie that gripped from the start. It opens with a scene so frightening, so bizarrely fascinating that I was instantly in love with it. Not to mention the fact that Jeff Bridges fucking nailed his role.
The structure of the entire movie is so odd and yet so thought-out and thought-provoking that it edges you keep on watching. The Vanishing is actually a brilliant character study that just keeps on getting more and more frightening, especially to those not familiar with the void. Just to be clear, I use the term void in a sense of the “dark side” of human behavior. So, not only do we get this deeply subversive main story but also an engaging crime thriller story. A story that’s superimposed on this character study, accentuating its dark nature. Even the most ordinary of actions turn to sinister acts of evil when put into this context.
An idyllic lake house is a perfect place to spend your afternoons. The relaxing sights and sounds of undisturbed nature can bring any man peace and tranquility. Not the man we see now though. He’s a seemingly ordinary man who, if you saw him, wouldn’t catch your attention. At the same time, Jeff and his girlfriend Diane are on their vacation, traveling by car and sightseeing. Fate would bring these three people together. A dark and twisted fate that would impact them for years to come.
The Vanishing is a movie you should just dive into. If you like crime thrillers or movies about serial killers, you’re going to love it. Apart from those elements, this is also a movie exploring grief, love, and guilt. And just to get back to the issue of the “American remake”, I think this version of the movie was unjustly panned. You could be that cool film guy who thinks that the American version is an inferior mainstream mess. And that if you want the real thing, you need to watch the Dutch/French version of the movie. This is how I feel about several American remakes of far superior European productions.
However, as I previously mentioned, I just didn’t like the original in this case. Sure, The Vanishing 1993 is a bit clunky and heavy-handed at times. There are also all these unnecessary tonal shifts, especially when it comes to Nancy Travis’s character Rita. And yet I greatly appreciated the straightforward storytelling enabling you to fully grasp the disturbing nature of the events you’re witnessing. Jeff Bridges, looking like Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men, gave a memorable performance along with Kiefer Sutherland. We also get a chance to see still-unknown young Sandra Bullock.
Moving on, I was surprised to see that Casio had a heartbeat and blood pressure monitor watch back in 1991. Or this is just a consequence of my more than modest childhood. Another thing that was interesting was Jeff’s tactic of using a broken arm to lure women into his car. Something that Ted Bundy used abundantly in his horrific killing spree. If you’re looking for similar movies, do check out Breakdown starring Kurt Russell. Although it’s a bit more mainstream, it’s still highly suspenseful and gripping.
Finally, I just want to say that one theme stayed with me long after the movie was over. And that’s the fact that one single event can change your life forever. Jeff’s character talked about this toward the end of the movie although the main event in the movie can also be used as an example. Perhaps that single event is just a manifestation of random thoughts we have all the time. They’re vying for influence and almost all of the time, the reason prevails. However, sometimes that’s not the case.
Director: George Sluizer
Writers: Tim Krabbé, Todd Graff
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland, Nancy Travis, Sandra Bullock, Park Overall, George Hearn
Fun Facts: The gas station scenes were filmed at Mountainside Shell Station at North Bend, Washington.