Fango Flashback: “THE VANISHING” (a/k/a “SPOORLOOS”)Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
As graphic as the genre can be at times, the truth about horror is that our greatest nightmares are the constructs of our own imagination. Albeit now a generic statement, the most frightening things about reality come from the unknown, as our conceivable thoughts can paint a picture much worse than reality. However, at the same time, people understand that there are truly sick individuals out there in the world, and in rare occasions, our imaginations have nothing on what horrors people are capable of for seemingly no reason. And it’s that terrifying double standard that fuels the obsession at the heart of George Sluizer’s THE VANISHING (a/k/a SPOORLOOS), and the brief glimmer of hope that takes us down the darkest depths of the human soul.
THE VANISHING posits a fairly universal nightmare for most people in long-term relationships: what if, one day, your lover just disappeared? Not murdered, not kidnapped, just flat-out went missing, and how you would deal with having no closure or justice when faced with the consequences. But underneath it all, THE VANISHING hints that there’s very, very little chance the woman in question left willfully, and from that point, we’re left only to assume the worst, placing the audience in a state of unnerving cinematic voyeurism.
Of course, THE VANISHING doesn’t wait very long before revealing its seemingly quaint face of fear, but in doing so, the film allows us to watch this character unfold into a genuinely monstrous villain. For this writer, THE VANISHING does something that far too few contemporary films do, which is instill a villain with a terrifying philosophy in which they can justify their abhorrent actions. But in doing so, Sluizer forces the audience to spend much time with said villain, and from there, we learn to empathize and understand this character with shocking intimacy. It’s a risky proposition, especially after we understand exactly the extent of the villain’s crime; hell, even Norman Bates was given a redeemable sense of doubt throughout Hitchcock’s PSYCHO.
But THE VANISHING explores more than just the horror of a psychopath; it explores obsession, paranoia and self-destruction with equal amounts of psychological dread. As writer and director, George Sluizer explores every physical and emotional flaw within his actors, dragging out performances that are devastatingly realistic. Likewise, Toni Kuhn’s stunning cinematography captures the mood of the film perfectly; the entire experience of the film feels contemplative and otherworldly while remaining intrusive, even sometimes perversely so. Furthermore, Hennie Vrienten’s score adds to the overall haunting atmosphere of the film, adding menacing, hypnotic electric undercurrent to every scene in which it appears.
However, THE VANISHING is anchored by a collection of mesmerizing performances, and ones that rarely are given due diligence in the bigger picture of the genre. Gene Bervoets is excellent in his role as the obsessed protagonist, selling every piece of his performance with nuanced self-doubt and a physically evident anxiety. Johanna ter Steege is also powerful in her role, offering a fully rounded and understated performance that becomes even more poignant and heartbreaking once the film shifts perspectives. But the film’s most valuable player is Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, who adds a surprisingly normal, rational embodiment to a character that could have been played with cartoonish villainy in the wrong hands.
From its foreboding beginning to its chilling climax, THE VANISHING is still as provocative and unsettling as it had been almost 30 years ago. With beautifully composed visuals and a genuinely brilliant story, THE VANISHING is a masterpiece of deception, suspense and inimitable terror. Sluizer’s exploration of the nature of obsession, both evil and benign, is gripping and scary in more ways than one. But above all else, THE VANISHING is legitimately unforgettable; it’s something you can’t shake, and it’s the kind of the film that makes you think about the darker sides of yourself, your loved ones and the world at large.