A remarkably simple, yet terrifying thriller, "The Vanishing" starts off quite calmly. A Dutch couple are riding through the countryside as she discusses her dream that she keeps having again and again. This spirals into a spat, and the couple starts to argue. They pull over, he walks away, but comes back. They work things out and head off on their way, taking a pit stop at a local roadside convinence store.
The two play a little, he promises that he'll never leave her again and girlfriend Saskia decides that she'll go in and get a few beers for the road. Rex waits and waits and waits for her. He walks into the store and looks, walks around the property and looks, but she's seemingly dissapeared into thin air.
Rex turns obsessed with finding her, but years go by and the police have no clues to go on. The movie is not flashy or visual like many horror films, it simply pulls us in with our need to know what happened to Saskia. The film even introduces us to who is the cause of her dissapearance and his story leading up to the current events; he's currently a family man whose family doesn't suspect what he's very likely done.
Rex can hardly continue in his current state; it's apparent that his hopes of finding his former love are becoming less possible every day, but he still must know. He travels around the country, leaving posters and asking for information anywhere he can. He's with a new girlfriend, Lieneke, but he can hardly continue their relationship because he can't get Saskia out of his mind.
Finally, the film's last half hour starts and pieces of the puzzle start to come together. Rex is contacted by the man responsible, and they meet, begining a journey that will reveal what happened to his girlfriend that day that she dissapeared. The final scenes bring the film's puzzle pieces together in a chilling and horrifiic way. The film does not work in the fashion of being flashy or visual or extremely violent. It simply uses atmosphere and information to build atmosphere and an undercurrent of dread. The performances are intense and detailed, pulling us further into the mystery.
Remade in 1993, again with director George Sluizer and starring Keifer Sutherland, Jeff Bridges, Nancy Travis and Sandra Bullock.
VIDEO: "The Vanishing" is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen by Criterion. The transfer was made from a 35mm low-contrast print (made from the film's original negative) that was transfered on a high-definition Spirit datacine. The results are not completely flawless, but Criterion's work here is certainly more than satisfactory. Sharpness and detail were really quite strong - the picture even has a nice amount of depth to the image on occasion. A few darker sequences looked a bit less well-defined, but this was a minor complaint.
The presentation is not without a few minor blemishes. Although print flaws were not apparent throughout the entire movie, I did notice a few minor spots and speckles on a handful of occasions. Otherwise, everything looked perfectly as it should. I didn't see any pixelation and noticed no edge enhancement. Colors came through quite superbly, as well, appearing natural and occasionally vibrant. Aside from a few somewhat undefined darker scenes and a print flaw or two, Criterion has done a very fine job here.
SOUND: The film is presented in French mono with English subtitles. The mono soundtrack is actually very enjoyable. The only concern with a mono soundtrack, of course, is the audio quality, and here it's actually very good. Given that "The Vanishing" is only about 13 years old, the audio sounds particularly full and crisp. The film's few instances of music sound strong and dialogue also sounded clean.
MENUS:: A simple, but effective and haunting animated main menu with slight animation.
EXTRAS:: Only the film's trailer. I would really have liked to have heard a director's commentary to discuss this film and the American remake.
Final Thoughts: A simple and subtle, yet often effective and chilling psychological thriller, "The Vanishing" is a very well-acted picture that horror or mystery fans may go for. Those who have seen the American remake, but not this version, might also be interested. Although Criterion's DVD edition is lacking in supplements, the presentation is quite good.
The Film *** 1/2
Video 89/B+ = (356/400 possible points)
Audio: 82/B = (328/400 possible points)
Extras: 70/C- = (210/300 possible points)
Menus: 85/B = (170/200 possible points)
Value: 82/B = (246/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: *** 1/2
DVD GRADE: B