Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Gene Bervoets, Johanna Ter Steege
Written by: Tim Krabbe, based on his novel
Directed by: George Sluizer
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 106
Date: 08/29/1988

The Vanishing (1988)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Rest Stopping

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

George Sluizer directed this brilliant, unforgettable Dutch/French suspense flick in which a young man goes through hell after his girlfriend suddenly disappears during a vacation. Rex (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia (Johanna ter Steege) park at a public gas station, in the middle of the day, with people all around, and she very simply doesn't return to the car. Rex's concern slowly grows to panic, and then to obsession, as he continues to search through the years (and even after hooking up with new girlfriends).

Though it's not strictly a horror film, it contains many chilling moments, such as Rex and Saskia's car running out of gas in a dark tunnel. Eventually, Sluizer breaks all the rules of the thriller by following the bad guy (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) and showing the method to his madness in great detail. His plan is so meticulous, it involves placing spiders in a table drawer so that he can detect the volume of female screams, and whether they will reach the neighbors.

Infamously, Sluizer was later hired to direct the 1993 American remake (starring Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland, Nancy Travis, and Sandra Bullock), which softened the ending and made mush out of the story. But this original is still deadly and razor sharp. Even Stanley Kubrick was a fan.

The Criterion Collection released a 2014 Blu-ray edition with a deeply textured picture and a beautifully subtle (uncompressed monaural) soundtrack. It includes an interesting interview with Sluizer, who does not discuss the remake. There's also an interview with the lead actress, and a trailer. Critic Scott Foundas provides the liner notes essay.

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