The Vanishing is one of those films that remains as scary the tenth time viewing it as it is the first time. I have seen this film many, many times and it still ceases to amaze me how wrapped up in the story I become each and every time. This is not a horror film, but one of the most heart-pounding mysteries with one of the most diabolical antagonists that I can think of to date.
The film opens as professor Barney Cousins (played by Jeff Bridges) practices his techniques for kidnapping the perfect victim, chloroform and all. It is hard not to be immediately engrossed from the very beginning with such a spine-tingling opening. To go to such lengths in the most cold and calculating matter is absolutely terrifying. We are then introduced to Diane (played by Sandra Bullock) and Jeff (played by Kiefer Sutherland) as bickering lovers on a road trip. They kiss and make up at a truck stop before Diane meets her ultimate fate with Barney and disappears. Three years later, no one knows what has happened to Diane, but tormented Jeff does not give up on his search. He then meets waitress Rita (played by Nancy Travis), who eventually moves in with Jeff piecing him back together to some sort of semblance of life.
Normality only lasts so long for these new lovers when Jeff makes a public plea to the kidnapper asking to meet. More than anything in the world, he just wants to know what happened to Diane. Not knowing is killing Jeff, but also killing his relationship, creating a schism in their relationship. It seems silly so many years later, but it looks like it will work. Barney still roams the streets and he admires Jeff’s perseverance. When Barney and Jeff meet face to face, Barney tells him the only way he will know what happened to Diane is to experience what she experienced, duplicating the events moment to moment, giving up all control. A theme of power and control is prevalent throughout the film. Jeff will forever feel powerless until he finds out the truth about Diane. Rita tries to control the situation by bringing Jeff back to reality, but she realizes that Jeff will never give up on Diane. Barney thrives off this power and control that he holds over these people’s lives.
We know who the killer is but we don’t know what he has done. Usually in this type of film, it’s the thrill of finding out who the killer is; in this case though, we know who the killer is from the very beginning of the film. This time the mystery is to find out what he did with missing Diane. Sometimes it is easy to rationalize what psychotic people do because they are crazy. But what’s even scarier is when a completely normal, sane human being commits unspeakable acts. With a heart-stopping climax, the film creates a tension that is almost unbearable. What he did to Diane, and now Jeff, is probably my worst fear ever. The claustrophobia is overwhelming.
Even with a beautifully unique plot and an all-star cast, Jeff Bridges is the heartbeat of this film. Sometimes it’s hard not to think of him as “the dude,” but this film will change your mind. I think he is one of the scariest bad guys on film, completely void of sentiment. I always remain transfixed in terror as the story unfolds. This is originally a French film, but believe it or not I like the American version better all because of Jeff Bridges; though the ending in the French version is hard to beat being named in the top 100 scariest moments.
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