THE VANISHING is based on a superb 1988 Dutch thriller released in the US in 1990. While the original was a rather cerebral exercise in suspense, the American version has predictably been given a more visceral dimension. The new version is more simplistic, but still works on its own
Unlike the first VANISHING, in which the explanation for a woman's disappearance is kept hidden for some time, this adaptation opens with the villain, Barney Cousins (Jeff Bridges), preparing for a kidnapping. He rehearses every element of his crime, right down to the timing of his attack,
before setting out. The focus then shifts to Jeff Harriman (Kiefer Sutherland), who is driving through the Pacific Northwest with his girlfriend, Diane Shaver (Sandra Bullock). They pull over into a crowded rest stop, where Diane goes into the store to buy drinks--and never returns. Driven to
obsession by Diane's disappearance, Jeff embarks on a one-man campaign to find her, putting up posters, following every possible lead and even appearing on TV talk shows, appealing to whoever might be responsible to provide him with an explanation of what happened. In the course of his efforts, he
meets a waitress named Rita (Nancy Travis), with whom he strikes up a relationship.
Jeff cannot stop thinking about Diane, despite his promises to Rita to put his former girlfriend out of his mind. When he still can't drop his obsession after three years, she walks out on him--just as Barney, having seen one of Jeff's TV appearances, appears in the young man's apartment. After
informing Jeff that he is responsible for Diane's disappearance, Barney endures a beating before telling Jeff that in order to find out what happened, he must experience exactly what Diane did. The two men drive to the rest stop, where Jeff reluctantly drinks coffee that Barney has drugged. He
wakes up to find himself trapped inside a wooden box, buried in the grounds of Barney's family's cabin.
What neither man knows is that Rita is out looking for Jeff, spurred by a witness to the two men's confrontation. She tracks down Barney's address, arriving at his house just as his young daughter Denise (Maggie Linderman) is sneaking out to meet her boyfriend. Offering Denise a ride, Rita
learns about the cabin before dropping her off and races to the remote location, where she confronts Barney. Having deduced from clues around the cabin what happened to Jeff, she claims to have kidnapped Denise--something confirmed by a call to Barney's frightened wife. Rita forces Barney to drink
the drugged coffee before she ventures to dig up Jeff but, unaware that the drug is slow-acting, she is attacked by Barney as she uncovers the box. Jeff, however, revives in time to kill Barney and save the day.
The most obvious difference between the two versions of THE VANISHING is the alteration--more precisely, the extension--of the ending. The original film ended with its protagonist finding himself inside the box, buried underground, finally confronted with the horror he had so tirelessly been
seeking. The new film, designed for an American audience that presumably couldn't handle such a bleak ending, not only lets its hero live but allows him to deliver a final coup de grace to the villain, who originally got away with his evil plot. The new ending robs the story of the lingering chill
it once had. Yet, paradoxically, the scenes leading up to the final confrontation are some of the best in the film; the way in which Rita turns Barney's mind games back at him during the climactic scenes are clever and effective.
In changing the sequence of events by which suspense is built up, George Sluizer (who also directed the original) has lessened the impact of the story. Part of what makes the first film so creepy is that, for a while, even the audience has no idea what's happened to the missing woman; the
villain's preparations appear only in flashback. By letting the audience in on his plot from the start (an approach no doubt mandated, like the new ending, by the studio), Sluizer achieves a much more routine kind of tension.
Despite the more conventional approach, Sluizer still makes the material work, and his unusual depiction of a villain motivated by a preoccupation with fate remains intact. As a commercial thriller, THE VANISHING is perfectly watchable--though it doesn't even come close to the chilling precision
of its predecessor. (Violence, adult situations, profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1993
- Rating: R
- Review: THE VANISHING is based on a superb 1988 Dutch thriller released in the US in 1990. While the original was a rather cerebral exercise in suspense, the American version has predictably been given a more visceral dimension. The new version is more simplistic,… (more)