Vanishing, The (1993)
Release Date: February 5th, 1993 MPAA Rating: R
Director: George Sluizer Actors: Jeff Bridges, Kiefer Sutherland, Nancy Travis, Sandra Bullock, Park Overall, Maggie Linderman, Lisa Eichhorn, George Hearn
he Vanishing” is a remake of French director George Sluizer’s own 1988 Netherlands-released film “Spoorloos.” Sluizer helmed this American version himself, although many claim that it’s been Hollywoodized to the point of silliness; indeed, the cultural differences and expectations have forced the sincerity and bleakness of the script to lean toward elements of comic relief and an overall lighter tone. But the acting, the plot, and the characters are still genuinely absorbing, marking “The Vanishing” as a first-rate psychological thriller with enough twists and turns to keep viewers perpetually on the edges of their seats. It’s intelligent, disturbing, and shocking, and exudes a clever originality that should thoroughly please anyone who hasn’t seen the original.
The film opens with Barney Cousins (Jeff Bridges) carefully rehearsing a kidnapping routine in the seclusion of his vacation cabin in the woods. The very next scene shows him meeting his daughter at the subway, giving a disconcerting view of a clearly deranged man. He’s a chemistry teacher and has a wife and child, yet he scrutinizes over details on his premeditated kidnapping like a serial killer, even adopting a few tricks that would have made Buffalo Bill (from “The Silence of the Lambs”) proud. He checks his pulse to determine his level of calm for the big moment, as well as experimenting with the longevity of chloroform drugging. The first 12 minutes of screentime are devoted solely to establishing this alarming villain.
Meanwhile, copywriter Jeff Harriman (Kiefer Sutherland) is traveling to Seattle through Mount St. Helens with his girlfriend Diane Shaver (Sandra Bullock). They stop at a gas station at a halfway point, where she hurries inside for refreshments while he waits in the parking lot. Minutes pass before he becomes concerned and finally wanders into the store to look for her. But she’s vanished into thin air; a few people saw her, but the uncooperative cops are convinced she fled due to a lover’s quarrel.
Three years pass without any evidence or clues; Jeff won’t let go, however, obsessing over Diane’s disappearance, posting flyers, and appearing on news stations to try to learn what happened. Despite becoming romantically involved with another woman, Rita (Nancy Travis), he can’t stop his search, struggling to keep the fixation a secret even when a publisher commissions him to pen a novel on the events of Diane’s unsolved departure. Just as Rita reaches the breaking point in trying to push beyond Jeff’s enigmatic past (and he counters with finally ceasing his perseverance), Barney reenters the picture, taunting Jeff with answers to his troubling questions.
Not knowing is worse than discovering a horrible truth. Or is it? Remaining unaware of Diane’s fate eats away at Jeff, until Barney presents a solution that could make him regret the all-consuming query. “Your obsession is my weapon,” states Barney, convinced that Jeff needs to discover the truth, even if it means putting his own life in danger. Bridges makes a memorable, superb psycho, demonstrating remorselessness, fortitude, an unnerving calm, and a faint Dutch (or simpleton) accent. It’s a deadly cat-and-mouse game, matching wits and murderous conviction, featuring arachnophobia, claustrophobia, terror, suspense, and unsettling weirdness. Unfortunately, anyone who has seen (or is familiar with) the original film is likely to be displeased by this remake’s differences. Everyone else will certainly be aghast.
– Mike Massie