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The Vanishing (free)

  • Vilas Hall 821 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

George Sluizer's 1988 thriller is a masterpiece of restraint and suspense. Info

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Existential dread comes in many forms in horror and thriller films. Some directors spread it across the screen with gratuitously orchestrated scenes, but there are times when not knowing exactly what is going on provokes an even more powerful, sickening sense of anxiety. True masters know when to dial it back enough that a particular sense of doom and panic begins to envelop their viewers, and 1988's The Vanishing (1988) exemplifies that approach.

This critically acclaimed slow burn from George Sluizer examines a man’s search for his girlfriend, who disappears while he waits for her outside of a gas station while on holiday in France. Rex (Gene Bervoets) and Saskia (Johanna ter Steege) are going cycling and engaging in the banter that couples do on long road trips. You see tiny cracks in the relationship during their journey. At their core, however, they are loving and seem committed to one another. We watch the frustration build as Rex is waiting for Saskia to come out of a gas station, only she never does. Rex still feels the pangs of loss three years later as he resumes the search for her. He has to decide how far he is willing to go, however, when presented with clues regarding her disappearance.

To say much more would take away from the tense viewing experience of this film. It does wrestle with the viewer’s sense of wanting to know the details of that day versus being able to infer what actually happened. As is the case with Prisoners, Inception, and A Serious Man, the cliff hangers leave with less of a gut punch than a bleak foreboding. Stick with the original rather than the American remake for a full-on experience of brooding suspense. —Edwanike Harbour

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