God forbid that it ever happens to one of us: a loved one leaves, never to return. There is no dreaded call from the hospital or the police. There is nothing. He just doesn’t come home for dinner. She never shows up for work. They seemingly vanish; into thin air as it were.
How could we survive such a thing? The uncertainty? The unanswered questions? And what about closure?
So it is with married couple Saskia and Rex. He is pumping gas as she pops into the convenience store for some snacks. They are traveling and–as often is the case in cramped quarters–have argued and made up. He absentmindedly watches her enter the store. It is the last time he ever sees her.
What happened to her? Where did she go?
Rex knows she didn’t leave of her own volition even if the police do not (they were arguing after all and it’s pre surveillance era.) So then, who took her? And why?
As Rex is left to grapple with the suffocating horror of panic, we have become acquainted with an ostensibly idyllic family. Two teenage girls are clearly enamored with their affably uncool, super smart father–he is a professor, after all, and a hero to boot having saved a child from drowning. They, along with their enthralled mother, roll their eyes good-naturedly at his edict to beware of heroes like himself, for they have a penchant for the dark side.
When he asks his daughters to demonstrate how loudly they can scream–goading them into a virtual screaming contest–it raises nary any eyebrow; it’s just dad being his quirky self. But we know better. We know because we’ve seen him–Raymond is his name–methodically experimenting with chloroform; and we’ve watched him clumsily drag a mattress into an unoccupied house. Yes, we have even seen him parked in his car, trying on a cast and arm sling, a la Ted Bundy.
There is little suspense here. Raymond is the obvious answer to the question of who took her. We also have insight as to why he has taken her–he is most likely a sexual sadist and she is most likely dead. Even so we are intrigued. There are still questions to be answered. And closure to run after.
Somehow Rex has survived Saskia’s disappearance. Three years later, he has even begun a new relationship, but he is hardly whole. He is haunted. He just has to know what happened…And how it happened. To this end he continues searching for her and appears on the news as the subject of a human interest story.
Rex makes an appeal to the abductor: “I hope the gentleman is watching…I want to meet him. I want to know what happened to my friend…I want him to know that I am prepared to do anything…”
And of course Raymond is watching. He is only too happy to make Rex’s acquaintance.
Director George Sluzier does a masterful job of stoking this psychodrama to inferno ever so subtely. There is no frantic running and chasing. No blood splatter. No time ticking.
Stars Gene Bervoets (Rex) and Johanna ter Steege (Saskia ) are wonderfully natural and nondescript–a testament to their skill. We don’t know them enough to be emotionally involved and, of course, this is by design. We care because we see our work-a-day selves in them and therein lies the horror.
Likewise, Bernard-Pierne Donnadieu (Raymond) is terrifyingly blase. He epitomizes an academic’s resolve–if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. We even chuckle–albeit uncomfortably–at his trial and error. The only thing remarkable about him is his out of the box cruelty.
For those not acquainted, I urge you to see the original, Dutch film. It is adapted from the book ‘The Golden Egg’ by Tim Krabbe. The title of the book is the key that unlocks the psychological horror of the film’s premise and provides us all with the closure we are seeking. The Sluzier version is–I will be economical with my words–a masterpiece; the American version is trash, and here I am being charitable.