‘The Vanished’ is presented such that almost everything about it feels like a fantasy. After building up enough tension until its conclusion, the film finally unveils the reality that is not even close to the one that you might have anticipated. Even though the narrative of ‘The Vanished’ isn’t unique, the movie successfully winds things up in a reasonable, neat & satisfying manner.
The Plot Summary
The story starts when Wendy and Paul set out on a family vacation with their ten-year-old daughter, Taylor. Everything seems perfect until one day, at their lakeside RV camp, their daughter goes missing suddenly. A strong sense of fear begins to permeate the couple as they commence their desperate journey to find their daughter. They never thought of how that this hunt to find her might lead them to some terrifying realizations.
The Ending: So Who Abducted Taylor?
Initially, when Taylor disappears, Wendy and Paul take it upon themselves to find her. Despite being warned by the cops to stay out of the search, the two sneak out one night and start searching for their daughter independently. Once they come across an injured sleeping camper, who they believe to be their daughter’s kidnapper. To take away his gun, Wendy fires at him & kills him only to learn the next day that the man was harmless & innocent. After this, Wendy and Paul start speculating if their neighbors’ had any involvement in this case.
When their neighbors leave their RV behind, one night to join the search party looking for Taylor, Wendy and Paul sneak into their camping van. They start looking for any clues that might lead them to their daughter. Wendy even discovers fertility pills in one of their cabinets and guesses that they abducted their daughter as they are struggling to have a child.
Their paranoia gets the best of them, and they resolve to take the neighborhood couple out for a boat ride. Paul purposefully detaches the motorboat’s cables in the middle of the lake while his wife blames the couple of stealing their daughter & all of their happiness. A dispute follows that soon turns into a murderous brawl. As a result, the boat turns over, and Wendy and Paul end up killing the couple.
As we approach the end of the film, Wendy speculates that the campsite owner who often hides away in a secret room has something to do with Wendy’s disappearance. When she sneaks into the room, she learns that the camp owner has sexually abused many minors before and holds their tape recordings. The cops arrest the camp owner but are still unable to locate Taylor.
In the closing moments of the film, Sheriff Baker, who heads the investigation, finds an old photograph of the couple in which they pose in front of the Twin Towers. The Twin Towers in the picture’s backdrop hint that the photo was taken 17 years ago. Things turn around when the cop notices a pregnant Wendy in the picture. He is shaken over what he concludes after reflecting upon this newly discovered information. He fails to understand how the couple’s daughter age is only ten years now.
He and his unit run back to the camp only to find out that the couple has disappeared. Later, he gets in touch with Paul’s brother, who informs them that Paul and his wife have been having a hard time letting go of their daughter’s memory. He learns that their daughter died after drowning in a lake seven years ago. His brother also reveals that the couple keeps on having manic episodes in which they re-enact their old memories with Taylor only to relive all the years they spent with her.
These disclosures made by Paul’s brother make it obvious that Taylor did not exist at all. All the former suspects, including the camp owner, were mere red herrings. Paul and Wendy’s paranoia was only a picture of their incapability to admit their daughter’s death. And so, they kept on imagining a false reality where their daughter could still be saved.
Wendy, Paul, and The Five Stages of Grief
Halfway through the movie’s runtime, there’s a scene where Wendy tries to kill herself by overdosing on sleeping pills. When she’s at the hospital, a counselor describes them that every human goes through five major stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, and Acceptance. He tells them that no one follows a distinctive order while experiencing these stages, and a few people even get caught up running back and forth between these stages.
The film ends, and Paul finally accepts his daughter’s death. He seems unwilling to get stuck in the loops of grief all over again. In the closing sequence, it looks like they have indeed accepted their daughter’s death at last. And since they have discarded away all of her belongings, nothing will ever evoke their sadness of losing her. But right before the credits roll, Paul and Wendy play an old video of their daughter and start impersonating it.
As a result, they end up drifting back into their tragic loops of grief all over again. The Vanished ends with a big twist and ultimately succeeds in delivering a compelling message within the final few moments.