By Brian Rentschler
Short version: If you're looking for excellent character development with a healthy dose of disturbing creepiness, don't miss this one.
I ended up seeing the original version of The Vanishing because I had heard from several people that it was one of the scariest movies ever made. After seeing it, I didn't find it extremely scary, but it was quite disturbing. (There is a distinct difference.)
I haven't seen the 1993 remake that stars Jeff Bridges, and I don't plan to see it anytime soon. In my experience, remakes are seldom better than the original, although I really liked the remake of The Ring. Directed by George Sluizer (as was the 1993 remake) and based on Tim Krabbé's novel The Golden Egg, this Dutch/French import from 1988 has similar pacing to many of the foreign films I have seen. It starts out very slow, almost boring, then it slowly picks up the pace until it avalanches into an ending that will leave you feeling like you just got run over by a big rig.
Rex Hofman (played by Gene Bervoets) and his girlfriend, Saskia Wagter (played by Johanna Ter Steege), are a Dutch couple on vacation in France. They make a quick stop at a convenience store, and Saskia goes inside to buy some cold drinks for the road. After Rex has waited about 30 minutes for her to come out, he starts looking for her, but she's nowhere to be seen. Frantic, he tries to report her missing, but no one will take him seriously. The trail of clues quickly turns cold, and Rex becomes obsessed with trying to find out what happened to his girlfriend.
Three years later, Rex is still looking for Saskia, and he is more obsessed than ever with finding out what happened to her. He has gone up to his eyeballs in debt trying to let the public know that his girlfriend is missing. His obsession has caused his new girlfriend to leave him. (Who knew that obsessing over a missing girlfriend could be a babe magnet?) What has also kept his interest alive is the fact that the kidnapper has sent postcards to Rex on a periodic basis. Rex ends up going on TV and pleading with the kidnapper to let him know what happened to Saskia. The kidnapper decides to pay a visit to Rex in person, and hilarity ensues. (Okay, maybe hilarity is not the right word.)
What's interesting about this film in particular is that it spends a huge amount of time focusing on the kidnapper. His name is Raymond Lemorne (played by Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu), and he's a married father of two who teaches chemistry. He owns two properties -- one in a secluded rural area, and one overlooking a busy town square. He spends most of his spare time in the house overlooking the town square, while his family lives in the rural house. His wife and kids are convinced he's having an affair (it's interesting to note how each family member reacts to the suspicion of an affair), but I'm sure they would prefer an affair over what he's really doing there. He's looking for victims, but that's only the tip of the iceberg. He is also planning. He has every move choreographed. He sets timers to find out how long different activities take. In one scene at the rural house, he knocks himself out with chloroform to find out how long he can expect his victims to remain unconscious. He keeps meticulous notes and documents everything. Where he's not quite so skilled is when he tries to identify potential victims. His goal is to get the victims into his car, at which point he plans to place a chloroform-soaked rag across their faces to knock them out, then drive away. With each failed attempt, you can see how he's learning more and more about the right way to find and kidnap his potential victims. The scene that shows how he kidnaps Saskia is not easy to watch.
I wouldn't dare reveal the ending, but I will say that it's disturbing, and not something you are likely to see in a typical film that is churned out of Hollywood. The character development is excellent, though. The creepiness of the film stems mainly from how you can see Raymond working extremely hard to become the perfect kidnapper. After seeing this film, it disturbs me how difficult it is to track down someone who has been kidnapped by a total stranger. It also disturbs me that people similar to Raymond Lemorne are out there in our society. If you're looking for excellent character development with a healthy dose of disturbing creepiness, don't miss this one.