Vanishing on 7th Street (2010)
Directed by: Brad Anderson
Starring: Hayden Christensen, John Leguizamo, Thandie Newton, Jacob Latimore, Taylor Groothuis
1/2 (out of 4)
Brad Anderson’s horror output – Session 9 and The Machinist – mine a lot of their creepiness from inside the psyche of their main characters. (Even Anderson’s enjoyable thriller Transsiberian had characters harboring dark secrets). Vanishing on 7th Street is a bit of a departure, in the sense that it’s a more straightforward thriller, with an obvious external threat. Or is it? The movie’s premise is an end-of-the-world scenario, where most of the earth’s population has been wiped out (probably) and the remaining survivors are literally trapped by darkness, which is slowly consuming all light (even the sun is starting to disappear). So, metaphorically speaking, Anderson has gone primal – the darkness and the threatening entities inhabiting it could represent a lot of things, but mostly it’s fear of the unknown, fear of death, fear of non-existence. As the clock ticks down, the pathos of the piece becomes clear when the characters repeat the mantra “I exist”, basically taking a page from Dylan Thomas, raging against the dying of the light.
In a very creepy opening, Paul (John Leguizamo, very good) is an AMC projectionist (did they help finance the thing?) who witnesses a power outage and then the disappearance of everyone in the theater, with only their clothing and personal possessions “left behind.” We’re then introduced to physical therapist Rosemary (Thandie Newton) who witnesses the inhabitants of an entire hospital disappear (one especially disturbing sequence shows a man in the middle of open-heart surgery who just had his doctors go “poof”). Finally, TV reporter Luke (Hayden Christensen) wakes up to find his mistress never made it home, then walks outside and accidentally steps on the glasses of a businessman who was snuffed out – Twilight Zone fans will immediately recognize the homage to “Time Enough At Last,” which was the episode where a bookworm discovered he was the last person on earth. In fact, Vanishing on 7th Street is full of nods to similar stories, like the rapture series Left Behind, the 80s favorite Night of the Comet, the X-Files episode “Soft Light“, Kurosawa’s creepy film Kairo, and the cult sci-fi film The Quiet Earth. The movie seems to pull a little bit of plot from each of these – end of the world makes everybody disappear; strange shadows whisper from the darkness before pulling you into it, where you become one of them; the darkness itself is the enemy (to tip you off, Paul is reading about “dark matter” in the beginning of the film); the laws of physics seem to have changed – the sun seems to rise later and set earlier. As one character speculates – the world seems to be winding down (electronics don’t work, batteries start to fail more quickly) – it’s as if we’re all in a giant reboot.
Not content with homages (I’ll be kind) to those films, Anderson and writer Anthony Jaswinski throw our adult characters into a bar setting with newcomer Jacob Latimore, who plays early teenager James. After the typical meet-and-greets (which involve shouting and a few guns going off accidentally), our foursome realize that they have to stick together if they want to survive the encroaching darkness. So Vanishing on 7th Street is kinda like Night of the Living Dead, with a new twist on zombies – they are now souls from the other side, living in shadows. Much of the film consists of Rosemary missing her baby “Matty”, Luke torn between looking out for himself and everyone else, James missing his mother (who was smart enough to buy a generator for the tavern), and Paul, who, when not theorizing on the cause of the apocalypse (singularities, wormholes, aliens, particle accelerator accidents, etc) is lamenting his missed opportunities with women. It all kind-of works, despite the fact that Christensen hasn’t gotten that “acting” thing down yet (but he tries very hard, bless him), and that the constant battle against the dark/shadow people (using flashlights, glow sticks, and the like) starts to get stale in the end. Oh, and in case you haven’t figured out, “Luke” is not some in-joke dealing with Anakin Skywalker, it’s Luke from the Old Testament, just like Paul, (Rose)Mary, Matthew(Mattie), and James. If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, the ending sequence inside a church, with two kids exiting into daylight Adam-and-Eve-like, makes the point rather conspicuously.
I liked a lot of Vanishing on 7th Street, but its execution is a little sloppy. I don’t mean the effects, which are pretty good, and there are some really choice scenes of an empty Detroit, along with eerie shadows pouring into the frame, trying to grab our unsuspecting heroes. No, I just mean logic – Paul supposedly was attacked and taken somewhere for 3 days, but there is no evidence that the shadow people are interested in merely kidnapping humans, and nothing is done with that plot point. There are scenes where victims are instantly snuffed out, and other scenes where the darkness moves extremely slowly (depending on how much dramatic tension Anderson wants to show). There’s no real law laid down on how much light you need around you to keep the shadows out, and the idea that the shadows can “trick” people into having hallucinations didn’t seem to fit with the tone of the film. Paul makes comparisons with the story of the Roanoke Colony, where an entire settlement disappeared, leaving behind the mysterious name “Croatoan.” Except that in real life, “Croatoan” is not a mystery – it’s an island (somebody didn’t do their homework). Finally, the most jarring discrepancy – why didn’t anybody think to start a giant fire? In the end, I still liked the film enough to recommend it. It’s not as good as Session 9 or The Machinist – and the movie offers up no interesting twists, or even answers about the nature of the threat, but it’s still good at evoking a creepy mood and communicating the inevitability of death. The film probably works best as a religious fable (only the light of God will save you) but I still retained from it the notion that as much as we want to will ourselves to continue our existence, eventually we must all give way to oblivion. That’s creepy stuff.
- Bill Gordon