The Vanished

  • 12 Sep - 18 Sep, 2020
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

Few scenarios fill parents with as much dread as the prospect of a missing child. The Vanished, filmmaker and actor Peter Facinelli channels that fundamental fear into a compact, consistently unpredictable thriller that provides few reassurances, but plenty of surprises.

Facinelli’s version of this disturbingly familiar narrative takes place almost entirely outdoors in the Alabama woods, not far from Tuscaloosa. In the opening scenes, the Michaelson family appears much like any other, heading out on a road trip for a long weekend: parents Paul (Thomas Jane) and Wendy (Anne Heche) occupy the front seats of their RV, while 10-year-old daughter Taylor (Kk Heim) and pug Lucky relax in the back.

Wendy leads them all in ragged renditions of road-trip sing-alongs while Paul guides their mobile home to a lakeside campground, where they get a borderline hostile welcome from middle-aged proprietor Tom (John D. Hickman).

Barely 10 minutes pass before Taylor mysteriously disappears, a plot twist worthy of a first-act break, typically after significantly more plot and character development. The inclination to view this as a crucial pacing miscalculation takes some time to dissipate, as it becomes clear that Facinelli has much more in store than the rote elaboration of a standard missing-child drama.

The next plot wrinkle quickly follows, when Sheriff Baker (Jason Patric) and Deputy Rakes (Facinelli) arrive to investigate Taylor’s disappearance, bringing with them the news that an armed and dangerous escaped convict from a nearby prison may be lurking in the woods surrounding the campground. Although Baker doesn’t think that the fugitive is connected to the missing child, for their own safety he warns Wendy and Paul against participating in law enforcement’s search of the area.

However, the worried parents aren’t remotely inclined to stop looking for their daughter and soon sneak off to do their own late-night sleuthing, leading to a terrible accident. When various bodies begin turning up, the sheriff realises he may be dealing with something far more sinister than just a missing persons case, as Paul and Wendy relentlessly press him for information on the search for Taylor.

When Facinelli finally delivers a denouement that’s virtually impossible to predict, ruthlessly undercutting expectations for the typical missing-child drama, viewers may feel either callously manipulated or unexpectedly rewarded, or possibly both.