Logic and lucidity propel the action from the outset of George Sluizer's Dutch thriller, as two lovers share loaded exchanges and portents on their road trip to France. Such deep significance and euphemism may seem innocuous at first, but once the titular vanishing occurs, the story shifts into atypical territory and every spoken word or gesture becomes relevant to the plot mechanics and methodical visual blueprint. Even though the two characters we invest in effectively end up as plot devices, the tenuous nature and essence of their implied relationship as soulmates, even if as characters they are only thinly drawn, generates a prevailing emotional weight as we grasp the finer points of the film. It is the affecting love story between them that extricates the film from the detached heartlessness of most generic potboilers. Sluizer consistently defies and challenges audience expectations, and as such creates the sense of unease and dread pervading throughout. By channelling universal fears of abandonment and loneliness, not least the concept of destiny, the pivotal moment the couple are torn apart by tragedy is devastating to watch, Sluizer plunges us into a nightmarish mistral: the depraved notion of a man struck by the urge to commit an act of extreme evil without experiencing remorse.
Adhering to a dissentient, iconoclastic narrative form punctuated by didactic scenes contravenes every code of the mystery genre, "The Vanishing" revels in such irregular structuring yet still retains the power to frighten. Upon registering that the film is plot-driven rather than interested in character development, which only serves to render the disappearance at the centre of the story infinitely more mesmeric once we learn the truth behind it. As the story veers between the past to the present, suspense is built from awareness and insight into the motivations of a sociopath. At its core, the film is not vying for justice or resolution; the missing woman is not our focus. As the identity of the perpetrator and his evolving methodology in the lead up to her disappearance are divulged fairly early on, our attention transfers to him and we come to be transfixed by his precise planning and motivations. It is within this hastened unmasking that the film finds its milieu, indicating Sluizer's lack of concern with formulaic chronicling of events and refusing to pander to the universal cinematic desire for piecemeal tantalisation and eventual resoluteness.
In cataloguing the mundane, exacting rationales and family man respectability of the abductor, his diabolic mindset and mild-mannered, cold demeanour resonates with the film's discordant tone, as well as its incongruities, dichotomies and sinister off-beat moments, all born from modest beginnings. A superbly realised, precise exemplification of psychological terror, "The Vanishing" takes a fascinating non-linear, technical approach in depicting the banality of evil. Ostensibly an unsettling exploration of the twisted characteristics of its villain, whose savage pathology leads to a breathless climax involving his victim's desperate, increasingly unhinged boyfriend three years after the kidnap occurs, the film also clinically examines the risks of capitulation, certainty and morbid curiosity. Deftly executed, haunting and cerebral with a spooky, unvarnished quality, Sluizer's spine-tingling chiller relies on the ordinariness, subtleties and sinister atmosphere found in true crime to achieve its desired effect: to scare the wits out of you without ever resorting to gratuitous gore.