The Vanishing is available to rent or buy now.
Having been described by Stanley Kubrick as “the most terrifying film he had ever seen”, George Sluizer’s The Vanishing simply can’t be excluded from a Halloween countdown list. While the film may be a psychothriller rather than a stereotypical horror, it is more unsettling and scary in its realism than any gory example of the horror genre, and just like many other thrillers on our list, it proves that psychological horror is often far more potent than the blood bath of the slasher.
The story takes its time in building its terror as we meet Rex (Gène Bervoets) and Saskia (Johanna ter Steege), a Dutch couple travelling through France. But when Saskia suddenly disappears at a busy petrol station without any explanation, The Vanishing takes a horrific turn as Rex frantically looks for her without any luck; her whereabouts a mystery as she becomes traceless (Spoorloos). However, Rex continues to search for years, never giving up on finding her, until her kidnapper, Raymond (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), suddenly reveals himself without warning.
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The Vanishing subverts audience expectations from the beginning in its pacing and plot. There are no big twists, last-minute rescues, or Hollywood reveals here; even suspense is missing in its usual sense during a relatively slow first half. However, there is a palpable sense of unease from the outset, the pacing and lack of conventional and established tropes helping to create a feeling of rich realism. This, in turn, makes the events that ensue utterly terrifying – the story rooted in one inescapable fact, these events could happen to anyone, anywhere and at any time.
A fascinating and utterly terrifying take on the “abduction” subgenre, we spend equal screen time between Rex, the boyfriend and Raymond, the kidnapper – a self-proclaimed sociopath. This allows us to understand their personas and where they come from long before they meet for the first time halfway through the film, allowing the film to delve into uncomfortable themes of obsession and egoism from two distinct and challenging angles, the plot culminating in an anxiety-inducing car ride before leaving us with a gut-wrenchingly hopeless and dark finale.
In 1993, Sluizer would return to The Vanishing with an English-speaking remake starring Sandra Bullock, Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland. Still, the Dutch original continues to haunt people’s dreams long after viewing.