As mentioned numerous times before it is becoming increasingly difficult to bring something fresh to the table. So it was with great excitement and anticipation that we sat down last Thursday to watch Fin's second choice of the season - The Vanishing. When I read quotes such as:
"..be warned this film could give you a sleepless night..."
".. the film Hitchcock would make if he was still alive..."
and was informed by Kirsty that the good Doctor also gave it positive reviews and that one reviewer said he thought he was going to be sick with the final reel, I was beginning to wonder what exactly I had let myself in for (a thought that to be fair crosses at least one of our minds almost every week). This is a film that has garnered almost universal praise (a 100% critics review score and 87% viewers score on Rotten Tomatoes!) and was even the film that the Netherland's out forward as their foreign picture contender at the Oscar's that year (it was rejected on the basis that there was too much French rather than Dutch language!).
Whilst I did enjoy The Vanishing, and it had no issues with holding my attention for its entire running time, I did feel that the film was lacking in a couple of areas. I am also not entirely convinced that this is a horror film. Whilst at times it is certainly horrific, I would say it is more thriller than horror. However, it is often classified as a horror and compared to other films that we have viewed I would say that it just about deserves the right to qualify.
The film opens with Rex and Saskia, a Dutch couple holidaying in France who stop at a gas station, where Saskia subsequently dissappears, apparently without a trace. This is the kind of idea that couldn't be pulled off nowadays, but in a pre mobile phone, pre CCTV society the idea of this is genuinely terrifying.
At this point the film I thought that the film was going to turn into a murder mystery. Interestingly, and somewhat uniquely, the film takes a different turn and shows us Raymond, the abductor, as he prepares for the abduction. It's fair to say that Raymond is one of the most despicable characters ever witnessed at horror club. His cold blooded perfectionism and detachment in preparing for the abduction is terrifying. We witness him calculating how much chlorine is required and at one point he even plants a spider in the drawer to scare his daughter, thereby testing whether or not his house is sufficiently far away from his neighbours to hide the screams of his abductee.
We then flash forward three years and catch up with Rex again who is a new relationship but is still obsessing over Saskia. Quite why Lieneke is with Rex I will never understand, and I would liked to have seen more of their back story and the past 3 years. One of my favourite things about The Orphanage, another story about loss and obsession, is how we follow the protaganist and slowly become obsessed with their loss ourselves. In The Vanishing however, I felt that I would have liked to have seen more of Rex's journey into insanity and obsession, in order that we could sympathise and emphasise with his character more.
I would also like there have to been more focus on Rex's guilt regarding Saskia's disappearance and the fact that they had fought just before the abduction. As it stands, it is hard to be sympathetic for Rex at first, as he comes across so badly in the initial scenes. Exploring how he felt following the abduction and the impact of the fight would have also helped to serve just how obsessed he had become and would help to justify some of his stranger actions as the film develops. I am of course assuming that Rex has been constantly obsessed with Saskia since her disappearance, which makes his relationship with Lieneke even stranger and out of place.
I don't really want to say much about the last third of the film, but it has some interesting ideas and is extremely tense and unnerving at times, and has a final scene that will stick with you for a while afterwards.
In conclusion, I wouldn't recommend this to any one else as a horror film, but it is worth seeing. I don't think it is as great as the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes would have you believe, but it has some interesting ideas, but in the end I would have loved for some of the themes to have been explored more thoroughly.