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First Look Review - VANish

Two brothers kidnap the daughter of a dangerous drug dealer.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Bryan Bockbrader

Starring: Maiara Walsh, Tony Todd, Danny Trejo


Shot in 13 days, VANish (tagline: ‘the shit’s about to hit the van’) wears its micro-budget upon its greasy sleeve with licentious pride. For nearly the film’s entire running time, we are grounded in the singular setting of a dishevelled van, along with brothers Jack (Sam Rockwell-alike Austin Abke) and the loathsome Max (writer/director Bryan Bockbrader); following the rapidly escalating events spiralling out of their abduction of Emma (Maiara Walsh) and their attempts to rendezvous in the desert with her rich pops (a very dangerous man, played by Danny Trejo).
Initially, VANish does not impress. The brothers are so obnoxious that we have no sympathy for their plight, and so calamitous that they never fully convince as a threat, either. Conversely, Emma seems entirely unbothered by her kidnapping: going from terrified sick to antagonistic victim to one of the bros within the space of minutes. There is mileage to be gained from the concept of the single setting, but without developed tension, the film’s engine splutters out; and the plot resorts to coasting (is it really necessary to visit an ex-girlfriend when you have the kidnapped daughter of a drug dealer in plain sight in the back of a van?). There are dream sequences that are just distractingly weird, and the introduction of Jack’s milquetoast pal Shane (Adam Guthrie) is another backfire - why bother inviting such a pest along?
But then, at almost exactly the half way mark, VANish steps up a gear. During an ersatz game of ‘truths’, Emma’s constraints are relieved so that she can tell her story; one about the awful circumstances in which her (real) parents died. Shot in one long, oppressive take, Emma’s monologue is disturbing and darkly comic (outblacking Phoebe Cates’ infamous ‘Why I hate Christmas’ speech from Gremlins); the music insidiously swells to support Walsh’s deadpan performance, the lighting sharpens, and the scene shimmers into something incredibly disturbing. And then, with this commitment to its own idiosyncrasy, it is as if the film has itself been ungagged too: the key has been put in the ignition, and VANish hits the freeway, becoming tense, strange and exciting. Of course, it transpires that there are deeper motivations for the kidnap, and the links between the four are more complex than they would at first seem. Also, while Jack’s ultimate plan is insanely convoluted and probably doesn’t bear up to scrutiny, it does go some way towards satisfying the dubieties of the first act.
VANish’s spiritual antecedent is the down and dirty oeuvre of Robert Rodriguez, and here a lowlife mise-en-scene is duly and effectively realised; all grime, heavy hair/stubble and sweaty t shirts, filthy guitar riffs making up the soundtrack. Visually, Bockbrader is an interesting storyteller; he knows where to point a camera, and certainly how to light a scene. The violence in VANish is especially impressive; there is a particularly nasty prolonged scrap in the back of the van which feels real and painful, and when the inevitable shoot out occurs at the end, the action enjoys the sort of attuned choreography that is rare in a film of this budget. It is a shame that the plot and pacing is so unbalanced though; with the van simply chugging along for the first half hour, and taking unnecessary narrative pit stops. However, VANish never fully stalls, and when it does put its foot on the accelerator, it’s a thrilling ride.

VANish is available on VOD/DVD/BluRay/iTunes from February 24th




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