By DEIRDRE CRIMMINS
Starring Sang-kyung Kim, Kang-woo Kim, & Hee-ae Kim
Written and Directed by Chang-hee Lee
Early warning: THE VANISHED is not a horror film. It has a fair share of tension and a good number of dead bodies, but the film is actually a throwback to the older cinematic tradition of twisty thrillers and neatly packaged vengeance.
A South Korean production, based on the 2012 Spanish film THE BODY, THE VANISHED is a thriller that starts after all of the bodies are cold, when the corpse of wealthy business woman Yoon Sul-Hee (Hee-ae Kim) goes missing from the morgue. Broken surveillance cameras and a bludgeoned security guard only make this case that much more interesting to police detectives. Jung-sik (Sang-kyung Kim) gives his best Columbo impression with unassuming air, all while being observant and sharp. He brings in the deceased’s younger widower, Park Jin-han (Kang-woo Kim), to question him and, to no one’s surprise, finds that he has been having an affair with one of his students. The stage is set for accusations, motivations, and enough money to make it all interesting.
Anyone expecting THE VANISHED to excel in action or jump scares will be disappointed. Rather, the majority of the film’s running time occurs during a series of interrogations between the detective and the widower, and the corresponding flashbacks that illustrate the story. The actors are not given a lot to do in terms of depth, as their motives are clear and their backstories taut. But the journey that the film takes us on, through affairs and pharmaceutical developments, is a helluva ride.
In a homage to early days of Hollywood thrillers like MILDRED PIERCE and LES DIABOLIQUES, THE VANISHED asked the audience to lean in a little closer, and to not forget a single detail revealed on screen. Every character’s reactions count in the plot, and no paper scrap tossed or car bumper bumped is without implication. It pays to pay attention, though the film does make sure to return to the more important details as the detective pieces the puzzle together.
Along those same lines, with every detail being important, the conclusion of THE VANISHED is wrapped up quite neatly. There is no superfluous detail and no single nugget of evidence that does not refer back to another part of the movie. For viewers who prefer their thrillers a little messy, they might be frustrated at the sleek style and clean plot. But those who have an affection for cinematic thrillers that keep us guessing right up to the very last minute, THE VANISHED is a perfect day at the movies.