Comedian Chris Rock once said “if you haven’t contemplated murder, you ain’t been in love.” That quote will give you the context for the set-up of The Vanished, a South Korean remake of the Spanish film The Body. But murder is only secondary to the unusual circumstances that take place in this movie.
The Vanished opens in the cold corridors of a morgue at night. A lone security guard is watching TV until the power cuts and a noise is heard from down the hall. He goes to investigate and in the darkness, notices that one of the body cabinets is empty. Before he can call an alert, he is knocked unconscious by an unseen assailant.
Hours later, detectives are on the scene. The body of a Yoon Seol-hee (played by Hee-ae Kim), wealthy business woman, has disappeared. She was recently brought into the morgue after suffering from a cardiac arrest. The police have no leads since the cameras cut out during the power outage.
They decide to contact Seol-hee’s trophy husband, professor Park Jin-Han (played by Kang-woo Kim), who doesn’t seem the least bit disturbed by the death of his wife. In fact, when the police call him, he’s celebrating his wife’s passing at the apartment of his young mistress Hye-jin. Professor Park is brought into the morgue in an effort establish leads on who could have stolen his wife’s body. But within minutes of arriving, he becomes a prime suspect in the murder of his wife, when police find a vial of TH-16 in his pockets. It’s revealed that Park dropped the experimental substance into his wife’s wine glass, which triggered her heart attack. The investigators theorize that he must have stolen and hidden the body before an autopsy concluded the cause of death. The mystery thickens when it could also be a case of catalepsy, a condition where the body shows signs of death only to wake up later. Park is convinced his wife is still alive and is tormenting him through a series of mind games.
Leading the investigation is Chief Woo (Sang-kyung Kim), described by his colleagues as a clueless drunk. But despite his bumbling entrance, he proves to be a master detective, picking up on details previously overlooked. He does away with Korean formalities and because of that, he’s able to call bullshit on Park’s alibi. He disobeys direct orders from his superintendent because he has a personal attachment to the case; his alcoholism can be chalked up to trauma after his fiancée was killed in a hit and run, and the driver was never tracked down.
The mystery becomes more and more complicated with every new clue. Things become even stranger when people receive calls and text messages from Seol-hee’s number. Viewers will constantly be wondering if Seol-hee is orchestrating some devious scheme or if the paranormal is at play. The story builds to an elaborate twist where all is explained. It’d be worth re-watching the whole movie all over again armed with the knowledge of what’s coming.
“..[A] a colorful roller-coaster of deceit and distraction.”
Although the movie takes place over the course of one night, we are treated to multiple flashbacks to further explain Park’s relationship with his mistress and his wife when she was still alive. The seamless transitions from the present to the past are masterfully done. Additionally, each one of ChiefWoo’s theories are acted out CSI-style. The Vanished makes great use of color; the morgue is a mix of blues and greys, while the exterior is covered in green foliage. The flashbacks are characterized by bright whites and yellows, to show when life was simple before everything became so dark. The camerawork in general is incredible, panning from room to room.
Before the screening at The Fantasia Film Festival, director Lee Chang-hee explained (with the help of a translator) that The Vanished is not necessarily a horror film, however I would argue that it has enough familiar elements of horror to attract an international audience of genre fans. Having not seen the 2012 film it’s based on, the story still comes off as wholly unique. Its visual execution makes it more than a run-of-the-mill detective story; it becomes a colorful roller-coaster of deceit and distraction.
The Vanished had its North American premiere at the 22nd edition of the Fantasia Film Festival on July 18th.
THE VANISHED is not necessarily a horror film, however I would argue that it has enough familiar elements of horror to attract an international audience of genre fans. Having not seen the 2012 film it’s based on, the story still comes off as wholly unique. Its visual execution makes it more than a run-of-the-mill detective story; it becomes a colorful roller-coaster of deceit and distraction.