August 23, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Peter Facinelli
Culture Representation: Taking place in a rural part of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the dramatic thriller “The Vanished” features an almost all-white cast of characters (with one African American/biracial person) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A husband and a wife report their 10-year-old daughter missing during a camping trip, and they begin to suspect certain people around them are responsible for their daughter’s disappearance.
Culture Audience: “The Vanished” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching movies about mysteries with plot elements that defy logic.
“The Vanished” is an appropriate title for this dramatic film if it’s used to describe all the common sense that disappears once the plot twist at the end of the movie is revealed. In order to believe the plot twist (which won’t be revealed in this review), you’d have to believe that a huge step was missed in a scene involving the investigation of a missing 10-year-old girl. That investigation is at the heart of this shambling and often-ludicrous movie, which was written and directed by Peter Facinelli.
Formerly titled “Hour of Lead” (which is an even worse title than the generic title “The Vanished”), the movie begins with a happy family trio in their RV camper as they head to a campsite in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Not much is detailed about married couple Paul (played by Thomas Jane) and Wendy (played by Anne Heche), such as what they do for a living or where they live, but they seem to have a loving, tight-knit family that includes their 10-year-old daughter Taylor (played by Kk Heim), who likes do sing-alongs with her parents. Also on the trip is the family’s dog: a pug named Lucky.
For whatever reason, the family has decided to take this trip to a remote camping site during the Thanksgiving holiday. (The movie’s story takes place over six days.) When they arrive at the check-in area, they are greeted by the gruff manager Tom (played by John Hickman), who tells them the campsite rules and mentions that the camping area is practically deserted because it’s a slow time of year.
The campsite also has a live-in groundskeeper named Justin Knowles (played by Alex Hayden), who’s in his early 20s, and he doesn’t appear to be very friendly either. When Wendy first sees Justin on the campsite, she gives him a polite wave, but he just frowns at her uncomfortably before going somewhere else. Justin acts nervous and awkward every time Wendy and Paul encounter him. It’s later revealed that Justin is a meth addict with a history of drug-related arrests.
The camping area isn’t that deserted because not long after settling in at the assigned parking spot, Paul meets one of the people whose camper is parked fairly close to his family’s camper. Her name is Miranda (played by Aleksei Archer), who’s in her 30s and physically attractive. Miranda is first seen by Tom while she’s relaxing in a bikini in a portable pool near her camper.
Paul ogles her while she gets out of the pool, they introduce themselves to each other, and they make small talk. Wendy isn’t around to see Paul’s wandering eyes, because at that moment, she’s in the campground’s convenience store (where Tom is the manager) to buy some food and supplies. During Paul and Miranda’s conversation, there’s some underlying attraction/sexual tension between them, which inevitably becomes a problem later in the story. Miranda mentions that she’s on this camping trip with her husband Eric (played by Kristophe Wente), whom Paul and Wendy eventually meet.
When Wendy comes back from the store, she and Paul are shocked to find out that Taylor has gone missing. Taylor was supposed to be in the camper while Wendy was at the store, but apparently Taylor disappeared without a trace while Paul was outside talking to Miranda. The local police are soon on the scene when they are called to look for the missing child.
A no-nonsense local cop named Sheriff Baker (played by Jason Patric) is heading the investigation, with assistance from his loyal second-in-command named Deputy Rakes (played by Facinelli). A fairly large search party begins looking for Taylor in the vast wooded area of the campsite. Meanwhile, a frantic Wendy and Paul are told that they cannot join the search party. Sheriff Baker tells the spouses that they should stay near their camper and wait to hear any news from the police.
After 24 hours have passed and Taylor still hasn’t been found, Wendy and Paul go to the police station to officially file a missing persons report. At the station, they express their irritation and discomfort over being questioned as if they might be responsible for Taylor’s disappearance. However, Sheriff Baker tells Paul and Wendy that it’s standard procedure to investigate the parents when a child goes missing.
Paul and Wendy find out at the police station that an escaped prisoner is suspected of being in the area. While waiting in their camper at night, Wendy becomes increasingly agitated and resentful that she and Paul can’t join in the search party. Against Paul’s better judgment, she convinces him to go with her to do their own search, away from the police’s team.
During their secret search, Paul and Wendy find a man sleeping while he’s camping by himself in the woods. This mystery man has a gun, so Wendy assumes it’s the escaped prisoner and that he must know something about Taylor’s disappearance. And let’s just say that Wendy takes the gun, becomes a little too trigger-happy, and that leads to more problems for the couple.
It’s not really a spoiler to mention this plot development, because a lot of what happens in the movie is revealed in the trailer for “The Vanished.” It’s enough to say that Wendy becomes increasingly obsessed with the idea that everyone could be a suspect in Taylor’s disappearance. Paul eventually gets caught up in Wendy’s distrusting mindset. And some reckless actions happen as a result of this paranoia.
Wendy and Paul decide to take the investigation into their own hands—and more complications ensue. Their increasingly illogical actions are explained in the movie as probably cased by sleep deprivation, but even that reason wears thin when Paul and Wendy start doing things that would severely hurt their chances of finding Taylor and just get themselves in more trouble. Heche is more convincing than Jane as a parent who is panic-stricken to find a missing child, but her performance eventually starts to become one-note as the rest of the story unfolds.
Overall, there’s nothing inherently bad about the acting in “The Vanished.” The directing is also adequate, but nothing special. It’s the movie’s clumsily structured screenplay that ruined the potential of “The Vanished” being a good thriller. The plot twist seems like an idea that was thought of first, and then the story was built around that idea in ways that were ill-conceived and then written in a sloppy manner.
It’s as if writer/director Facinelli made the assumption that viewers wouldn’t notice certain glaring omissions from the story that were deliberately left out in order for the plot twist to look like it should compatible with the rest of the movie. The plot twist is meant to elevate the story, but it just ends up sinking the movie, which was already drowning in a swamp of implausibility.
Saban Films released “The Vanished” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on August 21, 2020. Paramount Home Entertainment will release “The Vanished” on DVD on October 20, 2020.