In George Sluizer's study of two men locked in conflict, we meet Rex Hofman, a Dutchman and his girlfriend, Saaskia whom are on a vacation trip to France. During this trip she suddenly disappears at a highway rest stop. This event sets the stage for a drama that takes us into a world of strange proportions. The principal actors are both outstanding in their roles: Rex Hofman, the Dutchman is obsessed with his girlfriend’s disappearance, and Raymond Lemorne, the psychopathic French chemist that has kidnapped her. Lemorne is by far the real star or this chilling film. He makes the movie. His quiet, methodical and deliberate persona brings to mind how dangerous the criminally insane can be. At the conclusion, you might hate him as he stares, trance-like, unflinching and the camera moves away to reveal the morbidity of what he’s done. While Hofman is the one with whom viewers will identify, he does not have the power to intrigue viewers as Lemorne does. The unfolding story shows a man that has in effect bifurcated his life. He is on the one hand a family man, seemingly well adjusted to his life and at peace with his wife and two daughters. His second life is a cold calculating predatory monster that has an obsessive desire to kidnap a young woman. What he does with his potential captive, we don’t find out until the film’s conclusion. We do discover he's a lecturer in chemistry. A man of detail, He uses scientific knowledge to achieve a deadly aim. He tests a sedation drug by using it on himself, an after awakening calculating the time of its affect. We begin to see the thorough intent of Lemorne. A diabolic end for sure, but a well-defined end. He is a villain with a procedure to realize his perverse desires. I almost admired the antagonist character in this film.... Nooo, I take that back. I DID admire the villain in this film. Even the evil have admirable qualities.
Sluizer does not get too far in the mind of the villain. We never discover why the hell does what he does, but only what he does. Even when he lectures Hofman about himself during their drive from Holland back to France, he never actually tells Hofman what motivated him to do what he did to Saaskia. We don't see him as a sexual psychopath. We don't see him raping his victim. In fact there is not a sexual scene in this film. Nor is there a hint of sexual passion involved in the killing of this young woman. Lemorne's motivation has nothing to do with sex. Then what is it, you ask yourself? Sluizer leaves it to us to imagine why this nut is doing what he does. What Sluizer does do, is make us see Lemorne as an inscrutable cruel personality. Because of his gaming with Hofman, you want him to be caught. He sends postcards to Hofman telling him, that he will meet him and reveal what happened to his precious Saaskia, then never shows up. Yet, he watches Hofman make the appointments, from a distance at times, then at close quarters. And thus the film takes on an element of voyeurism. This toying with a man that is grief-stricken invoked in me a desire to expose this bastard. I'm sure any viewer would feel this sentiment too. I said to myself (in a whisper) as the film unfolded: you little sneaky son-of-a-bitch! The Lemorne character brings to your mind the need for revenge. Lemorne shows us something else about himself: he wants to reveal to Hofman what he has done as much as Hofman wants to know. Lemorne doesn't want to reveal his evil deed from a sense of guilt. It's not clear really why, but I suspect it is a sense of wanting to be hated and feared that drives his passions. This work shows a side of depraved people like Lemorne as an understatement. The performance of Lemorne is subdued, quiet, non-offensive, but like a snake waiting to strike. We can connect Lemorne, the fictional character, to real life people. Deranged murderers are not seeking our love, but our hatred. And of course, they crave our fear of them.
The movie has a texture that is multi-dimensional and characters that are symmetrical. It plays out from varying levels. We see Hofman doggedly questing for information about his girlfriend’s disappearance some 3 years after she has gone missing. In counterpoint to this level, is the layer above, that shows us how the perpetrator, Lemorne has planned the act. There is a balance in that Raymond Lemorne and Hofman are seeking opposite goals, but quite the same in their obsessions. If Hofman is 1+, then Lemorne is 1- and they are moving toward each other. Here is our symmetry. Hofman is obsessed with finding Saaskia, and Raymond Lemorne was obsessed with her capture and has ensured her never being found. His goal is to keep her concealed.
The events depicted are so true to life and thus believable, it might make you a little more circumspect the next time you pull up to a parking space in a large shopping mall. All that occurs doing the course of movie is what we have experienced via television in real life. In fact, as I write this review just such an event has happened to a young American on the tourist island of Aruba. She has gone missing for more than three weeks at the time of this review. The fear of losing someone close to you by a chance encounter in a public place is almost unbearable. This image is what The Vanishing brings to mind. Worst than this, is the conclusion. I won’t give it away.
There are minor characters that move the plot along. Leineke, Hofman’s new-found girlfriend that accompanies him back to France on his quest to discover Saaskia’s fate is one. Her role is small and supportive, but well-acted. She is also, the best looking female actress in the piece, and that helps. Lemorne’s wife is docile and trusting. The perfect mate for a psychotic, and she is used in this capacity, but without any other dimension to her character. The daughter provides us with an example of how the villain Lemorne is going to pull off his crime. A sequence with her is illustrative of the nature of Lemorne’s bifurcated personality. It’s tense, because we believe he is actually going to do to his child, what he has planned for unsuspecting female victims. Sluizer masters the art of misdirection with this sequence. In a break with the tone of the film, he introduces to this drama a little comedy. At one point in the film, Lemorne has revealed himself to Hofman. He convinces him to come with him back to France and he’ll explain what has happened to Saaskia. He reviews his life while driving the knowledge-hungry Rex Hofman back to France. He tells him how he finally settled on the idea of kidnapping a young woman. We are given the feeling that Hofman is not really interested in his autobio speech. He is listening to the derange man talk, just to find out what he wants to know. Eventually, he describes his modus operandi. He had put on plaster cast, then gone to the very rest spot where Saaskia was kidnapped and asked young women to help him hitch the trailer. Of course, they would have to get in his car to go over to where the trailer was. He fails repeatedly in this deception. His plan is to get the girl in his car by opening the door for her on the passenger side, then filling a handkerchief with a sleeping drug while he is walking around the car to the driver side door. Finally, he approaches a young woman with this cover story, and invites her to wait while he brings the trailer over, but to his surprise she says: no, I’ll just get in. He is happy to open the passenger side door. He starts to walk around the vehicle, pouring the drug in the handkerchief as planned. He gets to the driver side door and is seized with a desire to sneeze. He instinctively covers his nose with the drug-laden rag, then sneezes. Realizing immediately his mistake he politely excuses himself and rushes off to a restroom to clean the stuff out of his snoz. The woman waits momentarily then gets out of the car, confused. This scene is a real giggler. Lemorne is no professional killer for sure.
The Vanishing is a film to be seen. Its premise is one that we must consider. It conclusion is alarming.
Ken Wais 6/18/05