The Vanishing (Originally titled, Spoorloos) is every bit as claustrophobic as its diabolical villain. George Sluizer’s thrilling masterpiece is so terrifying, even Stanley Kubrick (The Shining) was quoted as saying, “[The Vanishing is] the most horrifying film I’ve ever seen”.
The Vanishing is the tale of a Dutch couple, Rex Hofman (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia Wagter (Johanna ter Steege) who are on holiday in France. The couple stop to rest and refuel, but Saskia never makes it back to the car. The incredibly distraught Rex tries desperately to piece together small bits of evidence; a Polaroid of Saskia exiting the store with an unidentifiable man, and witness testimony of her activities are the only two clues. Sluizer then uses this opportunity to explore the kidnapper’s history. A house purchased in the French countryside and tested for seclusion, a meticulously planned-out method of rendering his victims unconscious and the length of time in which he must complete his deranged errand. Three years pass, and after a very lucid dream, and five postcards from Lemorne, Hofman decides to re-open his investigation into the disappearance of his beloved Saskia. Upon seeing the new “missing” posters, Lemorne becomes intrigued and sets up a meeting with Hofman. With Lemorne, Sluizer paints the picture of a fastidious madman, while simultaneously, displaying his relative normality; thereby creating a sense of unease in the audience. Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) has a loving wife, and two adoring daughters. He blends into crowds, and is more-or-less friendly. It is in these details that Sluizer is able to turn this every-man into a truly menacing predator.
In this wholly-innovative and anxiety-filled masterpiece, Sluizer is able to keep the tension high while completely going against the conventions of a horror film. We get to know Hofman and Lemorne alongside one another, and are never made to jump or cringe. Because Sluizer shows us Lemorne’s life, we are better able to see him as a real-world threat. Just as we hear from a news feature in the film, “In this crowded square in Arles, there might be a murderer. You might see him, but you won’t realize it. He’s just another face in the crowd.”. These components are what bring Sluizer’s chilling narrative to life; this is not another super-natural apparition or brutal serial killer, it’s someone we know.
Sluizer gives the film an immeasurable weight with perfectly-lit shots and deeply-considered editing. He chooses the perfect amount of story to show the audience, and withholds enough to elicit anxiety. From the moment this film starts, we know that Saskia is going to disappear, but Sluizer expertly taunts the audience with it; constantly on-edge, anticipating when she may disappear. Every detail of Lemorne’s plotting and life are shown, but none regarding why he chose to act, or what those actions entailed. Sluizer never uses surprise to terrify his audience, and instead employs menacing shots such as Hofman waiting in a cafe, tightly-focused to leave the calculating Lemorne just out of our view in the background. In lieu of the commonplace horror-genre gore, we get an open-ended crime, devoid of explanation or consequence. The Audience is left, much like Hofman, completely in the dark, and constantly wondering.
Sluizer went against the archetypes of horror set by his predecessors, and, in so doing, gave the world one of the most suspenseful and terrifying films in history, setting a new golden standard of horror.