The idea behind Vanishing on 7th Street is fascinating one. Reminiscent of the video game Alan Wake, the survivors of an apocalypse must use light to combat whatever evil lurks in the shadows. Using our most basic fear (darkness) as an element for drama and tension, Vanishing on 7th Street had all the makings for a great thriller. Notice I used the word “had”.
After a massive blackout throws the city into complete darkness, citizens of Detroit mysteriously vanish leaving nothing but a pile of clothes. As daylight grows shorter each day and whatever is lurking in the shadow claims more victims, the remaining survivors convene at a bar that still has electricity. As they try to make sense of the madness around them, they must come up with a way to survive this apocalypse and find a way out of the city.
Easily, the redeeming quality of this film is director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transiberian) as he provides his usual fare of melancholy and fear with lush brush strokes. Anderson creates a breathtaking world devoid of light and life. Anderson’s use of shadows and lights creates an unsettling feeling at the pit of your stomach, one that could incite panic and tension almost effortlessly. While it’s difficult to appreciate being that the entire film is encased in darkness, Anderson did a good job limiting himself and providing amazing visuals to the film.
While on paper Vanishing on 7th Street seems promising, the execution leaves somewhat of a befuddled mess. Part horror part existentialism, the movie never quite decides what it wants to be. As the characters question why this is happening and moreso why they were the ones to survive, it leads to some frustrating choices. As the movie progresses, each hurdle or bad decision is seen for exactly what it is: a plot device used to further along the story. For instance, Annie Skywalker, um, I mean Hayden Christensen, trips and falls a total of 5 times, which gives separate occasions that the shadows “almost” get him. Likewise, the “madness” that the shadows cause almost feels rushed and oddly placed, considering that it happens in a flash without real simmering or explanation.
While the themes of religion, judgment and existentialism are interesting, it’s made dull and shallow by typical archetypes these characters play. The performances don’t exactly lend itself to the material. Hayden Christensen turns out a lukewarm performance that’s neither good nor horrible. On the other end of the spectrum, Thandie Newton brings a sporadic performance that is overly dramatic and frantic. The only person to deliver a good performance was John Leguizamo (of all people) with a character that had the least back story and screen time. It just seems as if everybody is going through the motions, and the fact that the material calls for deeper thought makes each line of dialogue a bit facetious. As these characters question their place in this apocalypse, their actions throughout the movie are extremely frustrating, turning a tale of survival into a chicken with it’s head cut off clucking why at the sky.
I wanted to like a Vanishing on 7th Street, and in all actuality I did enjoy it. Despite stilted writing, frustrating characters and a downright agitating ending, at its base it’s still an interesting idea. While one could drive themselves mad thinking about how awesome this movie could have been, at its core it’s an entertaining movie filled with thrills and a great vision provided by Brad Anderson. You’ll be disappointed, but you will also be entertained.
6.20 – Okay (6s are just okay. These movies usually have many flaws, didn’t try to do anything special, or were poorly executed. Some will still love 6s, but most prefer to just rent them. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.)