2 out of 5
Directed by: Geoff Bennett
This was actually a season of Aussie true crime series ‘Underbelly,’ split into three episodes from two and represented by Hulu simply by its subtitle – Vanishing Act. This was actually a return after nearly a ten year hiatus for the show, and seems to focus on something much more timely than the majority of previous series, as its 2022 airing covers the 2021 disappearance of Melissa Caddick (Kate Atkinson in the show), who ran a pretty insular Ponzi scheme against not only high-roller investors, but even friends and family as well, all of it crashing down – and all losing their cash – post a government investigation. Caddick would go missing the day after the investigators raided her home, leaving a husband and son, only for her decomposing foot to show up on a beach months later. Missing; presumed dead; and we don’t know exactly what happened.
…Which doesn’t stop Vanishing Act from pretending like it knows, narrating from Caddick’s point of view and promising us, at the start, to tell us how her foot got on that beach.
To the show’s credit, while some of this feels cartoonish – as an outsider, you can’t help but see Melissa’s husband (Jerome Velinsky) as a bit of an airhead, and her friends as somewhat equally empty-headed regarding the promises Caddick made about their money – they also don’t lean into this; the series isn’t trying to commentate, rather, perhaps just present whatever was known about these people and let the actors be guided by the script. However, moving forward with only half the picture, and because things are so recent, it can’t help but feel incredibly trashy, which isn’t helped by framing this via Melissa’s holier-than-thou attitude, which really feels like a bit of stunt casting to play off of Atkinson’s long-running, long-suffering role on Wentworth. That trashiness is only doubled and tripled upon by, firstly, belated attempts to add some humanity to those affected in the third episode, and secondly by the bullshit “hey, maybe X happened, or maybe Y happened” shoulder shrug of an ending. In the former case, while I suppose some look at the effects of Caddick’s crime is better than none, it’s executed with such offhand dismissiveness that it highlights the trashy vibe moreso.
But, er, if you can set that aside, and pretend like this is all fictional, Atkinson is a lot of fun to watch, and she’s incredibly skilled at playing the part of someone who has to pretend like they’re in charge when they’re actually underwater. And the heist-y nature of the first two episodes crimes are intriguing, as the notion that Caddick is very much screwing over people is never hidden, and seeing her flip it into a positive – in some world she thinks she is helping some people – is compelling, though the series never quite explores it more than at a surface level.