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Insidious abracadabra

Friday, July 19, 2019

Some films linger in your cranium long after the credits have rolled--sometimes for days thereafter. One such motion picture is George Sluizer's "The Vanishing" from 1988, which provides a privileged eerie look inside the lives of two men: one who remains haunted by the shocking disappearance of his girlfriend three years earlier, and the other being the sociopath who abducted her, a clever man who seems to have committed an airtight crime. Our CineVerse group performed an autopsy on this movie on Wednesday; here's what we discovered:

What are this film’s strengths and unique qualities that help it rise above your average thriller? 

  • As in many Hitchcock films, the audience is given a lot more information than the protagonists—including who the perpetrator is and, intimately, how he lives. Contrary to what you’d expect, this helps build suspense, and it also builds intrigue about the villain, causing us to guess what he may do next.
    • Consider that the more we know as viewers, the more unsettling and fearful we become.
    • “'The Vanishing’ is a thriller, but in a different way than most thrillers. It is a thriller about knowledge - about what the characters know about the disappearance, and what they know about themselves,” wrote Roger Ebert.
    • "Films like The Vanishing, Le Boucher, M, The Silence of the Lambs, and Se7en are more fascinating than most thrillers because you get inside the head of the villain, and you try and figure why they do what they do,” per the Classic Art Films blog.
  • While we are given some information, other crucial details are withheld, such as what Raymond the sociopath did to her. This film effectively employs both suspense and surprise; the latter is accomplished by shocking us at moments along the way, most crucially at the conclusion. And cheap jump scares are avoided.
  • It’s fresh and unpredictable in its narrative structure, and it avoids tacking on an upbeat ending. To its credit, while you could make a case that the stark conclusion is inevitable, many viewers don’t see it coming.
  • The villain isn’t a cookie cutter stereotype; he appears normal and harmless and has a wife and children. He has the look and personality of someone you wouldn’t suspect of this crime.

Themes built into The Vanishing

  • Persistence and dogged determination
  • A creepy game of cat and mouse
  • Curiosity killed the cat (or, in this case, the mouse): the dangers of obsession and unquenchable curiosity
  • Fate and destiny
  • The allure of a second chance, reboot, or the possibility of starting over
  • Evil hidden in plain sight; how a villain can blend in and evade suspicion
  • Motifs used in The Vanishing
  • A golden egg; oval shapes
  • Coins
  • Frisbees
  • Crosses
  • Bicycles and the Tour de France

Other works that The Vanishing brings to mind

  • The 19th-century urban legend of the vanishing lady
  • Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes
  • So Long at the Fair
  • And Soon the Darkness
  • Dying Room Only
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock
  • Frantic
  • The 1993 remake also directed by George Sluizer
  • Gone Girl

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