A film review by Craig J. Koban June 6, 2011
VANISHING ON 7TH STREET
2011, PG-13, 91 mins.
2011, PG-13, 91 mins.
Hayden Christenson: Luke / Thandie Newton: Rosemary / John Leguizamo: Paul / Jacob Latimore: James
Directed by Brad Anderson / Written by Anthony Jaswinski
VANISHING ON 7TH STREET is a
spookily effective end-of-days/religious thriller that gets by greatly on
its high concept premise told via minimalist means. It absconds from obligatory hack and
slash gore and cheap scares and instead opts for shock and awe suspense
and a chillingly evocative sensation of dread and anxiety.
For those reasons, VANISHING ON 7TH STREET emerges as an
effectively creepy and unnerving old school paranoia thriller where its
atmosphere and prevailing sense of apocalyptic doom are its chief assets first and
The film’s opening is sensationally chilling and unsettling: In Detroit resides a lowly and shy movie theater projectionist named Paul (John Leguizamo) that takes his duties seriously, so seriously in fact that he seems incapable of picking up on the flirtatious cues of an attractive concession girl. During one fateful day a power outage hits the shopping mall cinema and the inquisitive Paul leaves his booth to investigate. He discovers, to his horror, that every human soul around him has literally dematerialized and has vanished. All that is left behind are piles of clothing and personal effects from the missing people. Beyond that hellish discovery, Paul learns that all of the electricity has been completely neutralized as well. He is alone in darkness.
Meanwhile, a TV news anchor
named Luke (Hayden Christenson, who played father to Luke in the STAR WARS
prequels) emerges from his bed in the morning to find that he has no
electrical power in his high-rise apartment.
Even his cell phone has no reception.
Not fully understanding what has happened, Luke leaves his suite
and heads down to the apartment lobby and into the streets when he –
like Paul did as well – comes to the realization that all the people
around him have vanished, leaving behind – yup – just their clothes and
personal effects. The
citywide cataclysm really hits home for poor Luke when a pilot-less plane
crashes straight down to the ground a few blocks away from him (during one
of the film’s great gasp-inducing moments that frighteningly echoes 9/11).
At this point he gathers himself together and heads for the TV
station to track down his missing girlfriend, hoping that she too has not
been whisked away to…to…well…who the hell knows where.
The story then flash forwards
three days where we reconnect with Luke, who is now wearing a raincoat
covered in flashlights. Why?
It appears that the sun has completely disappeared during what
should be peak daylight hours and omnipresent shadows of all kinds of
supernatural and disturbing forms seem to prey upon any live human that is
not consumed by total darkness. Luke
does manage to find what appears to be the only safe haven away from the
dangerous shadows, a bar on 7th Street that miraculously appears to have
As he enters he eventually
comes across a shotgun wielding boy named James (Jacob Latimore) who has
been holding up in the bar (powered by its basement generator) awaiting for
his mother’s return. As
Luke and James acquaint themselves – after a very awkward and tense
standoff – a woman named Rosemary (Thandie Newton) enters the bar
screaming that she can’t find her missing child.
Then a head-traumatized Paul emerges and, with Luke’s aid, is
given safe haven at the bar. As the four of them get settled in they all try to come to
understand the impossibility of their situation: Is the Rapture occurring?
Are they dead? Are they in hell or purgatory? Are the vanishings a product of an alien invasion?
Or, as Paul compellingly deduces, do the vanishings have some dreadful
parallels to, of all things, the fate of the missing people from the lost
colony of Roanoke from centuries past?
Whatever the reasons are for the deadly phenomenon
around them, Luke and company begin to realize that the light is the only
thing saving them from a grisly fate, but with the bar’s generators slowly
failing and a lack of battery power from their flashlights, the end seems
to be horrifyingly near.
One thing that the film
thanklessly does not engage in is precisely spelling out the particulars
of the story’s doomsday occurrences.
It never truly pinpoints down what the ghost-like shadows and
monstrous darkness are or where they come from, not to mention that the
film does not waste time rationalizing how the shadows are able to
essentially devour humans right out of their clothing.
I think that what VANISHING ON 7TH STREET does exceedingly well is
to dissect one of the most common of all human phobias – fear of the
dark and fear of being in the dark without knowing what precisely is
creeping up on you – to haunting effect. In a way, the film becomes more textured and intriguing as a
cerebral and emotionally trying experience.
Even better, the film understands – whereas most others fail
– that real fear often emerges from what we don’t fully understand or
can see for that matter.
The cast of the film is
uniformly thankless, considering the full range of breathless and overly
apprehensive urgency they are required to bring to their respective roles.
I especially liked Newton’s turn as a woman that is distraught
beyond normal recognition regarding not just her lost baby, but for how
the darkness may have taken her baby from her.
John Leguizamo gives his projectionist a sense of fidgety, white
knuckled panic. Young John
Latimore commends himself with a real poise and assuredness playing a
12-year-old that is placed within a nightmarish predicament.
And Hayden Christenson himself – an actor that many critics take
pride in ripping apart – proves here as he did in films like SHATTERED
GLASS and LIFE AS A HOUSE that he is capable of strong, vigorous
performances...when given the opportunity. Mannequin Skywalker he
VANISHING ON 7TH STREET was
directed by the Canuck filmmaker Brad Anderson, who previously and perhaps
most famously directed Christian Bale to insanely obsessive levels of
dedication to performance art in THE
MACHINIST, which also featured
characters on the cusp of feverous uncertainty and mental collapse.
With cinematographer Uta Briesewitz, Anderson creates a low budget
thriller that looks richer and more persuasive than efforts twice their
film’s cost. Using
sepia-soaked screen canvases, judicious use of light and ominous shadows,
and run-down exteriors and interiors, Anderson and his crew give VANISHING
ON 7TH STREET an aura of nail-biting unease and psychological
horror. The piercing cords of Spanish composer Lucas Vidal’s
Bernard Hermann-esque score compliment the film's look nicely.
VANISHING ON 7TH STREET, on a negative, is not altogether original on an inception front: it’s essentially a George A. Romero zombie film minus zombies and its trapped-in-a-building-with-no-where-else-to-go aesthetic is ripped right from B-grade pleasures like ASSAULT ON PRESCIENT 13. That, and the characters in Anderson’s film seem to make increasingly silly choices as the story progresses, especially when normal, modestly headstrong people facing their same predicament would behave more sensibly. Nonetheless, I was surprised and thoroughly taken in by how distressingly effective and immersive VANISHING ON 7TH STREET was as a stylish, economically envisioned, and nerve-jangling mood piece. Leaving the theatre and walking down a dark and dreary sidewalk to your car may be difficult after watching it.