The Vanished

 

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In Netflix’s new unintentional comedy, Thomas Jane and Anne Heche lose their daughter, then their minds and then the plot.

   
Vanished, The

Mad as hell: Thomas Jane and Anne Heche

 

The Vanished is a complete mystery. Or is it a comedy? Or maybe a horror film? Tonal fluctuation is one thing; tonal instability something else entirely. Bong Joon-ho has turned such things into an art form, because he takes the trouble to create credible flesh-and-blood characters. Here, the false notes start jangling from the opening scene, leading to an arpeggio for the tone deaf. Really, though, the cast should be a give-away. Back in the mid-1990s, Anne Heche began playing ingénues rather late in her career, before going head-to-head with Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco (1997), aged 28. Thomas Jane was even older when he broke out, taking the title role of The Punisher (2004) by the horns. And long before that, Jason Patric was stirring female hearts in The Lost Boys (1987), The Beast (1990) and James Foley’s noirish steamer After Dark, My Sweet (1990). To see all three of them in this complete mystery is a bit like dipping one’s toes into National Lampoon's Class Reunion.

 

We start with one of the world’s biggest RVs roaring through the backwoods of Alabama where Grandma Wendy Michaelson (Heche) and Grandpops Paul Michaelson (Jane) are enjoying a singalong with their little girl Taylor (K.K. Heim) stashed in the back. There’s even a pug (of varying sizes) called Lucky. The family’s jollity is unsettling; it feels forced. Of course, it’s perfectly biologically possible for a couple like Jane and Heche to have a ten-year-old girl, but, subliminally, it works against the reality of the film. When they all pull up in front of a sign that says ‘Happy Campin’ RV Park’ it all seems too idyllic. There’s a big, serene lake and lovely autumnal woodland, but the reception they’re given by the park’s manager Tom (John D. Hickman) does not bode well. “You better keep Lucky on a damn leash,” he growls, “or he’s gonna be Unlucky.” Well, really. And then there’s the shifty groundskeeper Justin (Alex Haydon) who looks as guilty as hell, providing emotional ammunition for later. And then Taylor just vanishes. Enter brooding, pot-bellied Sheriff Baker (Jason Patric), who brings a whiff of compassion and Method Acting into the mix. The reunion is complete.

 

For a start there, The Vanished looked quite promising, opening with Emily Dickinson’s poem After great pain, a formal feeling comes. A line from the same verse – “This is the Hour of Lead” – even leant itself to the film’s original title, until the more generic The Vanished was decided upon. After all, there’s only been two other films with that title in the last four years. Essentially, then, Peter Facinelli’s The Vanished belongs in the sub-genre of drama that includes Picnic at Hanging Rock, Missing, Without a Trace, Frantic, The Vanishing (both versions) and the BBC’s gripping eight-part series The Missing (2014). There’s a whole bunch of them and the premise makes for potent cinema, particularly when a ten-year-old girl vanishes without a trace. What follows, though, is melodrama grasping at straws as Wendy and Paul start behaving like mad people, while an escaped convict turns out to be in them thar woods. The Vanishing wants to be a black comedy – at least, it really, really should. Instead, the tone is more Edward Albee meets Friday the 13th, while trashing around for a single stage direction from David Lynch. Poor Anne. More Thomas. Because the story – the original in its treatment form – did have potential.

 

Original title: Hour of Lead.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Thomas Jane, Anne Heche, Jason Patric, Peter Facinelli, Aleksei Archer, Kristopher Wente, John D. Hickman, Alex Haydon, K.K. Heim.

 

Dir Peter Facinelli, Pro Andrew Mann, Sasha Yelaun, Jeff Elliott and Brandon Menchen, Screenplay Peter Facinelli, Ph Cory Geryak, Pro Des Burns Burns, Ed Vaughn Bien III, Music Sacha Chaban, Costumes Keannu McMurray and Alesha Mitchell.

 

Ingenious Media/The Exchange/SSS Entertainment-Vertical Entertainment.

114 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 25 January 2021. Available on Netflix. Cert. 15.