F antasia is a genre film festival, so the first thing I expect from any film playing at Fantasia 2018 is that it employ the conventions of its chosen genre in a creative and satisfying way. The Vanished, a thriller by Lee Chang-hee, does that and then some, resulting in a film that’s suspenseful, visually interesting, and fun to watch. It may not have the most original plot in the world, and the characters are types you’ve seen many times before, but that’s part of the appeal of genre. The filmmaker’s job is to do something worthwhile with those conventions.
Yoon Seol-Hee (Kim Hee-an) is rich and successful and likes to flaunt it, with all the expected bling including a cute young trophy husband, Woo Jung-sik (Kim Sang-kyung). Or she had all those things when she was alive—now she’s dead, and her body has mysteriously disappeared from the morgue. Detective Park Jin-han (Kim Kang-woo) is called in to investigate. He’s agreeably rumpled in a Peter Falk/Columbo sort of way, which differentiates him from the wealthy couple and their unacknowledged third wheel, Kim’s young mistress Hye (Han Ji-an).
Woo has a guilty conscience, for reasons that are revealed in flashback, and this preys on his rational mind until he starts to imagine that Yoon is still alive. He’s worried that she will harm Hye, that his past behavior will be revealed, and that he may have given her the motivation to wreak some serious revenge on his candy ass.
It seems to be a requirement for every thriller these days to incorporate cell phones into the plot, and The Vanished does so skillfully, mainly by using Woo’s cell as the instrument by which he receives apparent messages from beyond the grave. In a panic, he does what people with guilty consciences usually do in this type of film, and then we start to learn what really happened and why.
The Vanished is so finely polished that it’s surprising to learn that it’s Lee’s first film (he wrote the screenplay as well as directing, adapting it from Oriol Paulo’s 2012 film El cuerpo/The Body). Lee has already mastered the craft of suspenseful storytelling, and has a fine sense of cinematic style. One of the pleasures of this type of film is the amount of time you get to spend looking at attractive people in luxurious surroundings, and even the hospital morgue has a sleekness that makes it oddly appealing.
Cinematographer Lee Jong-yeol, and probably a lot of behind-the-scenes technicians as well, deserve particular mention because the way this film looks goes a long way toward explaining why it works as well as it does. It’s a pleasure to look at, but is also a fine example of visual storytelling. The tonal palette is manipulated to clarify the timeline (flashbacks tend to look washed out, as opposed to the shiny, blue-tinged present), and the overall tone tests the edge of how dark things can get while still having objects visible on screen. | Sarah Boslaugh
The Vanished is playing at the 2018 Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal.