What is so effective about The Vanishing is the disarming jollity with which it knocks over the genre. Instead of a disturbing, creepy figure, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieus psycho of the show is, in a surprise move, played with a comic maladroitness. We watch him going through clumsy attempts to pick up women victims having to blow his nose on the handkerchief he is attempting to chloroform them with only to knock himself out, encountering his daughters volleyball teacher with increasing amusement. The film is all the more dangerous for doing so, lulling one with comedy and by depicting the psycho of the show as a harmless buffoon. So disarmed, one arrives at the genuine shock ending, which is something that left every audience exiting talking. Here The Vanishing is akin to the likes of Blow Up (1966) and The Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) in its refusal to conform to a thriller outcome and tell of Saskias fate, with startling effect. The final image the film goes out on is unforgettable.
The script is exceedingly clever. It is written not in a linear line but as an elliptical overlapping mandala where the two different stories and points-of-view of Gene Bervoets obsession with the missing Johanna Ter Steege and Bernard-Pierre Donnadieus comic stalkings interweave and link up at later points. (Early in the piece, we are given the mythic image of the Golden Egg, the title of the original novel, about characters floating alone in golden eggs where it would be disastrous should they collide. This image hangs over the film we are left with a vivid sense of peoples aloneness and the disastrous of the merging points-of-view). The elliptical nature of the plot and the subtlety of the clues laid out is breathtaking. A second viewing of the film, after one knows the ending, becomes even more fascinating in realising the meaning of some of the initially enigmatic behaviour and seeing the early appearances of Donnardieu and his car in the parking lot. Bernard-Pierre Donnardieu gives a marvellously jolly performance, while Johanna Ter Steege has a sunny loveliness that is all the more disturbing for her unspoken fate.
The film underwent a disastrous English-language remake as The Vanishing (1993), which abandoned all the elliptical storytelling, added an explain-all ending and substituted a performance by an enigmatic Jeff Bridges for the jollity of Bernard-Pierre Donnardieu. It ranks as one of the worst ever remakes the great crime is that it was also made by George Sluizer, who wrote-directed this version. Sluizer has never enjoyed the same sort of success as this again. His other genre films include the psycho film Crimetime (1996), the ghost story Dying to Go Home (1996) and The Stone Raft (2002) wherein a geological eruption causes the Iberian Peninsula to become separated from the European mainland.