The Vanishing (George Sluizer, 1988)


Spoorloos or The Vanishing is the kind of film that will stay with you for a long time. It’s a terrifying story that could happen to any of us. I’ve seen a lot of horror films and no films about zombies, serial killers chasing you in real life or in your dreams, blood thirsty vampires or werewolves will be as haunting as The Vanishing. I don’t mean to overhype this film for you, but it is so worth seeing. I’ll try to talk about it without giving too much of the story.

It’s about a Dutch couple, Rex and Saskia, on vacation in France. They are very much in love. It looks like the getaway that will bind them forever. A high point in their relationship. What I’m trying to say is that both of them have reached the point where they expressed their love and are ready to stay together for a very long time. Everything is perfect. Only that, while stopping at a gas station to fill the tank and take a break, Saskia goes to the ladies’ room and to buy some drinks and never returns. Rex looks for her for the rest of the day but can’t find her anywhere. The case becomes famous, Rex gives interviews and appears on TV. He is haunted by her sudden vanishing. How can a person just disappear like that and not be seen by anybody? This is what we ask ourselves throughout the film. I’ve had many theories about her vanishing while watching the film, trying to look for a reason behind it.
Fast forward three years later, Rex has a new girlfriend, Lieneke, traveling through France. He can’t take Saskia out of his mind and this affects his new affair. He still gives interviews about her vanishing and pays a great deal of money for the investigation. He is no longer hateful towards the one responsible, he just wants to know what happened to her. Soon after that, he is contacted by a man who can answer his question.
The structure of the film is very unusual. It uses flashbacks in an interesting way. It answers to all the questions. Nothing is left out. The scenes that show Rex is haunted by the memories of that unfortunate day are beautifully constructed with emotional impact. We, the audience, are drawn into the mystery and we want to find out what happened as much as Rex does.
The cinematography is gorgeous, beautifully shot. It’s amazing how many beautiful shots you can take in a simple store. The score sets the mystery mood from the first moment. You feel that something bad is going to happen. The combination of images and sounds works perfectly with the tragic atmosphere.
The actors do a fantastic job. The performances are very important to the story and how the film responds to us. Gene Bervoets gives a great performance as Rex whose life has been changed for the worst after the incident. Rex is unable to distance himself from that nightmare and this affects his social life. Rex cannot move on from this terrible happening even if he tried. He becomes obsessed with Saskia’s disappearance and cannot imagine how she could have disappeared off the face of the earth like that. A very fine performance.
Johanna ter Steege plays Saskia. She has a limited screen time, about half an hour overall, but during those minutes she charms us, which makes the story even sadder. The scene in the tunnel and the one in the gas station at the end are the stand-outs for me. There are very different scenes, even opposite and how she handles those emotions is exceptional. However, the best performance is the one from Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu who plays the man who contacts Rex. Won’t say anything more about him. Just that his character is intelligent, probably that’s why he’s so scary. I liked that the film explored his character so much, he’s almost the lead. A fantastic performance.
Spoorloos deals with isolation and destiny while also being a moral study into a man’s psyche. It’s an intense, edge-of-your-seat thriller that will not be easy to forget.
The ending delivers, at least for me. I couldn’t say more about it. A great finale to this very tragic and scary story. I was very satisfied with it. It’s a very original film and I’m glad they handled it so well.
I recommend Spoorloos with all my heart. Do not read more about the film. Just watch it. And do not watch the remake, stick with the original.


  1. Great review of a truly fantastic and realistic horror film. I agree, what happens in this film could happen to any of us, which is what makes it so goddamn terrifying. And I love the way this movie is structured. So fractured yet together. Man, I really need to scope this one out again.


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