Jeff and Kiefer's Vanishing Selves
Now that Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland have scored recent successes for their respective principled, upright portrayals of a dogged, veteran Texas lawman Marcus Hamilton in the film Hell or High Water and U.S. Cabinet member-turned-unlikely U.S. President Tom Kirkman in the TV series Designated Survivor, it’s fun to harken back to an occasion where they played decidedly unsettling antagonists of a murkily creepy sort in the effective yet undervalued horror thriller The Vanishing (1993), an American remake by Dutch director George Sluizer of his acclaimed 1988 Spoorloos. Critical and audience reaction to Sluizer’s revisiting of the material was tepid, yet those in search of Halloween jitters might get a jolt or two out of the intriguing opportunities it offered both Bridges and Sutherland to play off-kilter characters whose intersection takes them out of each’s comfort zone. Bridges plays outwardly mild-mannered, soft-spoken (if quizzically accented) chemistry teacher Barney Cousins, a husband and father who carries out a sideline in plotting and executing abductions. Sutherland plays Jeff Harriman, whose girlfriend Diane (a pre-stardom Sandra Bullock) disappeared from a rest stop where the couple took a break during a long vacation drive. Three years later, Diane’s vanishing has left Jeff shattered and obsessed with finding out the truth of what happened and whether Diane is still alive. It turns out that Barney, Diane’s kidnapper, has been watching Jeff, and like a psychotic puppet-master, makes himself known to the broken man with the twisted proposal that if the need to know Diane’s fate is so overwhelming, the haunted Jeff should allow himself to undergo her ordeal. Films about manipulative maniacs are not new; the electrical current that buzzes through this particular iteration comes from watching Bridges and Sutherland, normally – with a few exceptions – exemplars of flawed but relatable everyday guys, revealing their amoral dark selves with nerve-wracking conviction. Sluizer (who co-wrote Spoorloos with source novelist Tim Krabbé) and American adaptor/screenwriter Todd Graff (better known as an actor from The Abyss and Strange Days) ratchet up the suspense with chilling scenes that depict Barney’s detailed kidnapping preparation rituals (seen in flashback and drolly narrated by the psychopath) and Jeff’s frantic search efforts, whose fruitless results cause an inner void that will not allow him to get on with life, despite the promise of a new, healing relationship with a sympathetic waitress named Rita (Nancy Travis). Reviewers who hailed the 1988 Dutch original and downgraded this 1993 revision point to the redeployment of Rita, a character having lesser screen time in the first film, and her part in the altered final sequence of this version as primary reasons that lightning did not strike twice with this material. But this version of The Vanishing, enhanced by an insinuatingly spooky score by pantheon composer Jerry Goldsmith (The Omen, Alien, Coma, Poltergeist and many other bump-in-the-night favorites), nonetheless delivers shivers galore, as well as bravura lead performances by Bridges and Sutherland, on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.