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This is a story of two men. On one hand, the pain and suffering of one consumed by his grief and on the other, the fulfilment of a dark fantasy by a man who creates the perfect plan. Strangely for a thriller, there is little to no mystery over how or even why the events take place and that makes for an even more involved and powerful story.
Rex and Saskia are a young couple in love, driving their way across Europe into France. They are happy and playful, wrapped in each others space as they encompass the vast expanse of countryside heading toward their destination. She warns him about their low petrol gauge but being the typical know-it-all guy he insists there is nothing to worry about. Of course she was right. The fuel runs out. They are left stuck in a long tunnel so without thinking, Rex heads out to refill their petrol can, leaving Saskia alone in the car.
He returns to an empty vehicle, hugely relieved when he finds her standing at the exit of the tunnel holding the torch she had insisted he search for prior to abandoning her in the dark. Saskia is furious at his lack of care and they sit in silence until they reach the next service station. They refuel, breathe a sigh of relief and make-up. They return to their loving warmth. Saskia heads off to buy them drinks for the road. Rex never sees her again.
We learn very early on who is behind her disappearance. The narrative turns into The Diary of a Kidnapper, taking us into his family home and the methodical, step-by-step planning behind the whole event. This includes trial runs and mistakes that are almost comical at times, a tone that should seem completely out of place considering the seriousness of the crime. Director George Sluizer doesn't misjudge its use and it oddly serves to provide a sense of empathy for the kidnapper.
The trial and error we go through with the man we are supposed to hate creates a strange imbalance of emotion toward him. Clearly he is a man with warped sensibilities whose motivation for the crime appears to be nothing more than mere curiosity. Watching him stumble through his failed attempts strips away the psychotic exterior associated with someone of his ilk. That's not say he is not figure to dislike given his distant nature but actor Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu presents a far more complicated figure than the average criminal.
The mundaneness of the process involved in executing something so sinister is what makes The Vanishing feel so horribly ice cold. It turns into a journal of notes and timings completely detached from the devastation it will cause. The idea of kidnapping becomes unnervingly real, just a matter of practice and harmless mistakes. You dread to think of the thousands over time who have fallen victim to something that is made sadly so plausible.