(Although I tried to refrain from SPOILERS, the review might include some)
Once upon a time, in the mid-90s, a young teenager that knew little of film rented a 1993 film called The Vanishing. The film, starring some of the 90s hottest stars (Kiefer Sutherland, Nancy Travis, Sandra Bullock) ended up being a mildly enjoyable, run-of-the-mill thriller that vanished into forgetfulness shortly after. Fast-forward a couple of years after, the teenager started getting more into films, and at some point found out that the film he had seen was a remake of an European film of the same name. Reading more about it, he found out that the American remake had pretty much changed the whole story in favor of a "happy ending". But what made everything weirder is the fact that the remake was handled by the same man that had written and directed the original: George Sluizer. 10+ years after, the teenager, now a 30-something, decided to give the original a try and what a surprise he had.
There's something to be said when you can watch a film that you already know the outcome and still be thrilled by it and enjoy it. That was my case with Spoorloos which, despite following the same premise as its remake that I happened to see first, it successfully managed to stand on its own not allowing to be overshadowed by its "evil twin brother". Whereas The Vanishing ended up being a forgettable, run-of-the-mill thriller for me back in the 90s, Spoorloos was a compelling and dark film that's still in my head because of its haunting ending.
For those that hadn't heard of it, Spoorloos follows a young couple: Rex and Saskia (Gene Bervoets and Johana ter Steege) as they share a vacation trip through France. During a routine gas stop, Saskia disappears, which launches Rex on a spiral of desperation and obsession for the next three years. Rex's obsession, which has rendered him unable to hold a healthy relationship with his new girlfriend (Gwen Eckhaus), also puts him on television where he pleads the kidnapper to just let him know the truth. This prompts the inconspicuous man (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu) into the inevitable face-off with Rex.
All of the performances are pretty good, but I was mostly surprised by Bervoets, who manages to convey Rex's feelings of desperation, obsession, and curiosity successfully, thus making the climatic moments more believable. Donnadieu is also pretty good as the kidnapper: common man Raymond Lemorne, who plays the man with a creepy banality to it, without turning him into a "demon". Their eventual meeting even hints at how similar, or how common, they both are.
The ending was pretty dark and haunting. I think that what happens there is one of the worst fears any of us has. The fact that it mirrors both Saskia's, and then Rex's dreams only makes it more haunting. Yet another haunting thought that passed my mind in the end was, why would someone want to completely change the ending, let alone the same director, in a remake? Sure, I know that in the 90's the studio probably wanted a "happy ending", but then why remake a film if you're going to ax the whole point of it? It's baffling and I have to wonder why Sluizer went with it.
All in all, a very intense watch and a perfect portrayal of what Mark Kermode referred to as the "banality of evil", and the dangers of obsession. Similar portrayals that come to mind are Jake Gyllenhaal's in Zodiac and Gary Oldman in Romeo is Bleeding. Grade: A-
(All pictures belong to Argos Films and its affiliates)