VANish is one of those quiet independent movies that wears its heart on its sleeve and is proud to be guileless in the face of inspiration. It boasts no poetic dialogue and little creativity — indeed, it seems to be assembled from leftover parts of other films — but is elevated by straight, true performances, and a plot that does itself a favour by being simple-minded and character-driven.
This is not a great movie, by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s faithful to itself and just goes with the flow, even if sometimes the flow is hampered by obstructive dams of gratuity. I’ll tell you what I mean later.
The story follows three friends, Max (Bryan Bockbrader), Jack (Austin Abke), and Shane (Adam Guthrie) as they abduct a willowy girl named Emma (Maiara Walsh) and ask her rich dad for five million in ransom. This abduction scene, and the scene that leads up to it, is filmed with such bravado that the rest of the movie seems to play constant catch up, until it eventually flies off the rails with a conclusion that is preordained by stock action cliches.
But you don’t see a movie called VANish for the plot, or for clever misdirection, or for unorthodox resolutions. You see it because you want to be taken for a ride. The four main characters have a good time double-guessing and double-crossing each other. Walsh, in particular, is a real gift. With eyes as spectacular as diamonds, she cuts right to the point before any of the men know what she’s cutting. She doesn’t swing for the fences, nor does she hole up inside herself. She plays Emma as a confident, cocky free-spirit, who’s not above shooting a man in the face with a shotgun.
The movie runs at seventy-nine minutes but finds the time to include a couple of cameos from good-hearted actors. Tony Todd plays an ominous police officer who loves his commercials. And Danny Trejo adopts the role of Emma’s Mexican Cartel father, who has been away from his family for so long he doesn’t know if his daughter’s in high school or college. It’s any father’s mistake to make, I suppose.
Look, you’ve got to be in a certain mood, and to like these kinds of movies to enjoy VANish. You’ve got to understand where they come from and where they intend to go. I had a good enough time, because I was absorbed by the characters and their distinctive traits. And I got lost in Maiara Walsh’s eyes. There’s not much to the plot or to the delicacies of the mind, but there you have it.
Now, about that dam of gratuities. Many people die in or around the titular van. That’s okay. But there’s a gruesome fight scene that begins as a rape and ends with a head being blown off. In between is a lot of sawing and slicing and stabbing and bleeding, and it never seems to end. Writer and director Bryan Bockbrader no doubt knows how to keep a story under control. Now he needs to learn that a face cut in half does not make a movie.
VANish is available on VOD, DVD, Blu Ray, and iTunes.
Best Moment | Jack dealing with his deranged ex-girlfriend.
Worst Moment | The fight scene I mentioned.