The Vanishing (1993)
Studio: Twilight Time
Release date: October 14th, 2014
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
The Vanishing is an old story retold in more ways than one: obviously, itís a redux of George Sluizierís original Dutch film, but itís also another cautionary tale about Hollywood taking a foreign masterpiece and completely missing the point. This one arrives with a bit of a twist as well, as Sluzier helmed it himself, a decision youíd like to think serves as a good omen; instead, itís one of the more confounding aspects of this effort, which at least makes for an interesting case study. Depending on how much you acknowledge the context, itís perfunctory at best and almost blasphemous at worst.
On the surface, itís mostly the same story, only the players have been switched out for Kiefer Sutherland, Sandra Bullock, and Jeff Bridges. The former are Jeff and Diane, a usually happy couple having a pretty contentious day during a vacation up to Mount St. Helens; the latter is an unfeeling sociopath who crosses their path at a gas station, abducts Diane, and sends Jeff down a three-year path of obsessively seeking answers.
For viewers, there is very little mystery: unlike the Dutch original, this take opens with Bridgesís Barney Cousinsóan obviously disturbed, highly eccentric psychopathópracticing his abduction routine and strategy, a shift in focus that changes the dynamic for the worse. This Vanishing isnít a mystery: itís a fill-in-the-blanks thriller from the outset, only the familiar plugins have been shuffled around and are played at a different speed.
In the twenty years since the release of The Vanishing, Hollywood has conjured up all sort of bullshit labels for its various retreads: remakes, reboots, re-imaginings, etc. None of these apply all that well to this situation, which is best described as a remix. Imagine a dirge thatís been injected with a techno house music beat: thatís this version of The Vanishing, a film that takes a moody, existential drama and lobotomizes it into a high-octane Hollywood thriller. No longer a mediation on the banality of evil, the film isnít about much of anything despite some ham-fisted dialogue towards the end thatís hell bent on convincing you otherwise.
Speaking of the ending: itís tempting to point to it as the most egregious betrayal of the source material (a fair argument thatís supported by the fact that the movie ends on a visual gag), but itís not as if the preceding hour hasn't primed you for it, particularly in its treatment of Jeffís budding romance with a waitress (Nancy Travis). Where the original film treats a similar subplot with subtlety and restraint (one of that filmís strengths is knowing what not to say), this one sees this development as an excuse to engage in tawdry melodrama. Had it only served to highlight and underline Jeffís obsession and self-destructiveness, it might be a serviceable but vestigial appendage; however, considering it opens the door for the filmís ludicrous climax, itís more of an unwieldy growth that becomes terminally distracting.
Credit is due to Sluzier for not simply replicating his previous film, I suppose: save for the obvious plot similarities, this feels like a different movie altogetherówhich is to say, it feels like mindless escapism. This is no longer a twisty, fascinating examination of a sociopathóitís just yet another brainless thriller that uses a maniac as window dressing.
Of course, The Vanishing opens up the olí Pandoraís Box: would it really be that much of a disappointment if it werenít caught in the shadow of its superior predecessor? In this case, itís sort of complicated, as this is where I admit to having seen and enjoyed this version many years before I was even aware of the original. By recreating and feigning that ignorance as best possible, itís perhaps easier to enjoy The Vanishing for the cheap thrills it provides: itís somehow a pleasantly thrilling movie featuring clichťd characters and perfectly fine Hollywood actors (shout out to Kiefer Sutherland and his unkempt mullet strolling in from 1987).
Bridgesís casting almost feels like a stunt, and he embraces the opportunity accordingly with a highly-affected complete with a weird accentóeverything about him signifies an oddball, which stands in stark contrast to Bernard-Pierre Donnadieuís comparatively muted, sinister performance. Still, itís sort of fun to watch Bridges relish such a bizarre role, plus Sluzier at least as a decent grasp on this mode of filmmaking, from his capturing drearily ominous Pacific Northwest landscapes to the white-knuckle pacing of the climax.
Regardless, itís very difficult to outrun that shadow, which shades almost every moment of this effort, and describing The Vanishing with words like "fun" and "thrilling" just feels wrong. Maybe thatís not fair, but itís not like anyone was forced to update a masterpiece. I feel more like a disappointed parent than a movie critic at this point: you dug this grave, The Vanishing, now lie in it.
Then again, maybe it doesnít have much to be ashamed ofóapparently, itís gathered a decent enough cult following for Twilight Time to release it as part of its limited edition series, where it arrives on Blu-ray with a theatrical trailer, an isolated score track, and liner notes by Julie Kirgo. In addition to a pristine transfer, the upgraded presentation also features both 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-MA tracks to appease purists. Ultimately, this a fine release for a curious effortóitís not exactly a fascinating experiment like Van Santís Psycho, but itís worth dissecting to see just how easilyóand wildlyóthings can be lost in translation, even with the original director at the helm.
The Vanishing and other Twilight Time titles can be purchased at Screen Archives.comments powered by Disqus Ratings: