The Vanishing (1988)| Review
Updated: May 31, 2022
For a director like Stanley Kubrick ---having directed The Shining--- to call a film “the scariest of all time” is certainly an achievement. This film is the 1988 Dutch horror film The Vanishing. Alongside Kubrick’s claim that the film is inherently scary, many other critics and audience members alike have also crowned it one of the scariest films of all time--- with an ending notable for its horror-factor. I would not even call the film scary. The ending, which is constantly referred to as “frightening,” is neither remotely compelling nor creepy.
The film follows one man’s desperate struggle for information about the vanishing of his girlfriend--- whether it be the name of the person who may have murdered her or actually finding her somewhere. He spends roughly three years (told through an extremely expository line) searching for her, hanging up missing flyers, and appearing on television. But, the film isn’t just solely about this man trying to find his girlfriend, it shifts into the day-to-day life of a presumably throwaway character. As the film approaches its last thirty minutes, the man searching for his girlfriend meets the presumably throwaway character and the man’s life takes a turn for the worst.
There’s a lot to chew on with this film, some pros, some cons. The story basis alone is fairly intriguing. However, it fails in execution. Rather than focusing entirely on the man searching for his girlfriend, the film takes a heavy amount of time to illustrate the shortcomings of the other character’s ordinary life. That character happens to be fundamental to the story, albeit in a incredibly quick and pretentious manner, yet the audience member might already expect that given how much screen time is devoted to them, resulting in the third-act being predictable. I admire the film’s attempt to draw its attention to this seemingly spontaneous character and their psyche (if you’ve seen the film then you know what I’m talking about), still the part of the film that is devoted to that character is boring. It‘s a combination of boredom and artistic experimentation. The entire time I was questioning whether to give up on my interest in the movie and just turn the tv off or sit back and be bored. I chose the latter, which resulted in a unique, yet underwhelming ending.
The ending averages out the quality of the film. The first act is exceptional, while the second act is repetitive and uninteresting. With the third act, the quality is average. The almost surreal encounter (again, if you’ve seen the film then you know what I’m talking about) would exemplify some of the best ideas possible in a mystery film, but for the second time, the execution falls short. The drive with the two characters almost feels surreal after the amount of buildup leading to this scene. Nonetheless, when the two characters get out of the car and return to the gas station, that is where the film, again, falls short. It seems as though the director wants to establish a certain atmosphere and sense, yet doesn’t put in the work for it. The gas station accompanied with the darkness could really work for something much more interesting and suspense film than a mere conversation between two characters. And the entire conversation is nothing more than an attempt to convince another character to act on something, thus lazily moving the plot forward. When the character finally gives into what is repetitively offered to him, the result is not even scary. It obviously was terrifying for the character experiencing the action first-hand, but the director fails to connect the viewer to this feeling, ultimately resulting in a mediocre scene at best. Ultimately, the lesson one receives from watching this film is what not to do when orchestrating suspense.
Time Stamp: March 2021