The Vanished

THE VANISHED is how you’ll regard the irreplaceable 115 minutes you spent watching this 2020 suspenser, an item that fits into the box marked “I couldn’t sleep so I decided to try this”. Written & directed by Peter Facinelli, who also plays a supporting role, its twist finish isn’t enough to justify the steadily increasing illogic (and essential distaste) that precedes it, a threads goulash of red herrings serving mainly as a resume entry for several actors who’ve seen better days in much better projects.

A married couple’s Thanksgiving RV vacation jaunt to a country lake turns into a nightmare when their little girl goes missing. Some pretty obvious suspects are at hand, but thanks to plot mechanics the investigating sheriff somehow overlooks them, and the couple, between arguments, decides to proceed sleuthing on their own, disastrously escalating an already dire situation.

Unless you suspend any sense of reality, the set-up, improbable from the very start, goes banana peel slipping in several directions with behavior, from nearly every character, at odds with common sense. Thomas Jane (the go-to guy for weird B-picture scenarios) and Anne Heche play the parents. Whether they’re overacting or subtly playing with the material is up for grabs.  Bearded and apparently packing considerable surplus pounds, Jason Patric is reliably good as the local sheriff, even if the script leaves him at a disadvantage.  To be fair to writer-director Facinelli, maybe he’s most guilty of over-ambition, complete with attaching a Emily Dickinson poem to the start to indicate seriousness, and later paying facile lip service to the stages of grief. That’s done in a brief scene with a counselor, played by Gregory Harrison, the bit part a long drop from a once-promising career. Aleksei Archer seems to have been cast not for her gifts as a comedienne, but for her more readily visible and tangible attributes: mission accomplished.

                                               Aleksei Archer: red herring, swimsuit bait variety.

Even with the final reveal taken into consideration, actions and reactions of characters don’t add up. Missing child and incidental homicides not enough, a subplot tangent involving pedophilia adds an extra sour taste. Having served in the trenches—or woods— as one of the chick-bait vampires in the Twilight series, Facinelli was weaned on thriller fancies where things that couldn’t happen do, but this isn’t the terra infirma of leaping werewolves and sulky seniors, but the unsexy midnight zone of deep grief and tragic abuse.  115 minutes is overlong to boot: 90 would have sufficed. Further bummer: after head-shaking curiosity kept me going until the non-payoff, WTF? end, I got so irritated at myself for falling for a movie I instinctively knew would suck that it took me another hour to conk out—and then had crappy theme-related dreams.

Shot at Lake Nicol, near Tuscaloosa, Alabama. With John D. Hickman, Alex Haydon, Sadie & Kk Heim.  Facinelli also acted as producer, taking credit with 19 others in one form or another of that elusive who-did-what category.

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