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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Vanishing (Blu-ray)
The Vanishing (Blu-ray)
The Criterion Collection // Unrated // October 28, 2014 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted October 20, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

Directed by George Sluizer in 1998 (and remade for North American audiences in 1993), 1988's The Vanishing (or Spoorloos in its native Holland) introduces us to Saskia (Johanna ter Steege) and her boyfriend Rex (Gene Bervoets) as they vacation in France. When they stop at a gas station Saskia heads into the store while Rex attends to the car, but Saskia doesn't come out. He looks around and doesn't see her, going from angry to visibly upset fairly quickly. Enough time passes that he knows he's not going to find her here and so he heads home.

Rex doesn't just forget about this and move on, however. He becomes increasingly obsessed with finding Saskia and figuring out what happened to her and why. His obsession becomes all encompassing, affecting his life in pretty much every way. He puts up pictures of her all over Holland and France as well, holding out hope that someday he'll come up with something and while he moves on with another woman, he can't ever really let go. Early in the film (so this is not really a spoiler), the man who abducted Saskia is revealed to be Raymond Lemorne (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu). We don't know how or why he took Saskia the way he did, but we do know he's seen the pictures Rex has posted all over the place.

We'll just leave it at that for fear of spoiling this fantastic film for those who have yet to catch up with it for The Vanishing is indeed a very atypical thriller. The movie unfolds in a very strange fashion, telling us pretty much everything we need to know about the events that unfold as we want to know it but still managing to keep us enthralled throughout because what we don't know is how the characters are going to act and react to what we already know. It's a very clever way of staging a suspense film and it all builds to a fantastically effective gut-punch of a finish that stands the test of time as one of the most intense finishes you can imagine. Sluizer co-wrote the story with Tim Krabbe and based it off of Krabbe's own novel so given that you've got the author's involvement there's a very strong understanding here of how and why this story is told the way it is told. Unorthodox as the film's methods may seem at first, but the time the end credits hit the screen, if you've paid close attention it all makes sense and the fact that it does make as much sense as it does makes gives it even more impact.

One of the interesting things that the movie does is to humanize Raymond. We don't just get to know him but so too are we introduced to his wife and his kids. He has a warmth about him, a kind face that seems harmless enough on the surface and by introducing the character this way, we're already caught off guard. He's not the cold, heartless, knife-wielding maniac you expect from a movie like this but he does definitely have his own reason for committing the crime he has committed in the film. The non-descript Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu plays this part perfectly, and for lack of a better cliché to use, his performance is chilling. Complimenting his work is the performance from Gene Bervoet. As Rex, his obsession quickly beings to approach very unhealthy levels and he crafts this character with enough care and detail that, while we understand him, we want to keep a bit of distance from him. There's something off about both of these men and as the story twists and turns, learning about it proves fascinating. The catalyst for all of this is, of course, Johanna ter Steege as Saskia. She also turns in very fine work in front of the camera. The movie is nicely shot and makes good use of an oddly effective score, but as solid as the acting and production values are, this one is all about the story and the amazing way in which it builds to its finish.

The Blu-ray:

Criterion debuts The Vanishing on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed in the film's original aspect ratio of 1.66.1 widescreen taken from a new 4k restoration of original film elements. This is quite a strong image with lifelike skin tones and very nice color reproduction. Black levels are good and both detail and texture are quite strong throughout the duration of the film. There are no obvious issues with compression artifacts nor is there any overzealous edge enhancement or noise reduction to complain about. As such, the film is a bit grainy in spots but never to the point of distraction, it really just serves to remind us that this was shot on film rather than video. For the most part the image is crisp, clean and clear and it's hard to imagine the picture looking a whole lot better than it does on this disc.


The sole audio option for the feature is a Dutch/French language track in LPCM encoded mono with optional subtitles provided in English only. This isn't the most rambunctious sound mix you're ever going to hear but it suits the tone of the movie quite well. Depth is pretty good for a single channel mix and the levels are properly balanced throughout. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note while dialogue stays upfront, never buried by the score or the sound effects.


The main extras on the disc are two new interviews, the first running nineteen minutes and featuring director George Sluizer. This is an interesting piece that lets the director explain his approach to building tension in the film, some of the issues he ran into while adapting the novel into a film and how some of those issues were dealt with, his thoughts on the contributions of the cast to the picture and the character development that plays an important role in the effectiveness of the film and its infamous finale. The second interview runs just over fourteen minutes and features actress Johanna ter Steege and she speaks making her film debut in this picture, what it was like working with Sluzier on the film, her thoughts on her character as portrayed in the film and why she played the role the way she did. Both interviews are well done and informative and make nice additions to this release.

Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film's original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. Inside the clear keepcase is a booklet of liner notes featuring credits for the movie, production credits for the disc and an essay that offers some history and insight into the effectiveness of the film written by film critic Scott Foundas.

Final Thoughts:

The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray release of The Vanishing isn't stacked with extras but the two interviews that it does include are illuminating and interesting. As to the technical presentation, the film both looks and sounds very good here and audio and video both surpass the previous DVD in big ways. The movie itself remains a bit of a masterpiece, really. The performances and technique on display are uniformly excellent while the story remains both engaging and genuinely frightening. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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