Flying in the face of current horror movie trends, TBS Superstation and writer-director Walter Klenhard provide a satisfying suspense thriller without an ounce of gore or gratuitous violence. Taking its cues from “The Twilight Zone” and “The Blair Witch Project,” where bad things are heard and not seen, “Disappearance” marks a welcome departure from the usual TV scare fare. Pic also boasts the onscreen reunion of Harry Hamlin and Susan Dey — the first since their days on “L.A. Law.”
Hamlin and Dey star as Jim and Patty Henley, newlyweds who take a road trip through the Nevada desert as a bonding experience for Jim’s kids, Matt (Jeremy Lelliott) and Katie (Basia A’Hern), and their new stepmother.
Matt’s friend Ethan (Jamie Croft), along for the ride, brings an old map of the area and the boys locate the site of an abandoned mining town. They persuade the group to take a detour to the town of Weaver.
Weaver provides plenty of photo ops, but when it’s time to leave, the car won’t start, the cell phones aren’t working and the group has to make camp for the night. Before they can settle in, Ethan finds a video camera with footage from Weaver’s last unfortunate visitors, who seemingly disappeared by some unseen force.
It may not be the most original premise, but “Disappearance” is the first film in a long while to ignore the basic tenets of a scary movie: When strange things start happening, nobody wants to solve the mystery; everybody just tries to get the hell out of Dodge.
All the while Jim and Patty, trying to maintain a sense of control at the face of burgeoning chaos, are able to rationalize each strange occurrence. Is there really a threat or is this the result of an overactive imagination in an unfamiliar place?
The idea works great, thanks in part to the chemistry of Hamlin and Dey. The actors adeptly play to the understated dynamics of a newly blended family negotiating strange territory, literally and figuratively.
No one is more vulnerable than a dysfunctional family on vacation, and Klenhard uses this to great effect. This emotional dynamic could implode in the cushy confines of a three-star hotel, let alone in a ghost town.
A’Hern, Lelliott and Croft do a great job of turning mild teenage paranoia into full-blown fear without taking it over the top. Some viewers may grouse at the film’s ending, but others will appreciate a director who resists the urge to spell everything out.
Production designer Les Binns comes up aces with his set of Weaver, taking great advantage of the alien terrain of South Australia. Like Klenhard’s directorial style, Shirley Walker’s music is subtle but haunting.