Directed by Brad Anderson
Written by Anthony Jaswinski
Starring Haden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo, & Jacob Latimore
There’s a lot of good to be said about VANISHING ON 7th STREET. Director Brad Anderson is the twisted mind that gave us the immensely creepy SESSION 9 and the equally jarring THE MACHINIST (you know, the skinny Christian Bale movie). Though still a scary flick, VANISHING ON 7th STREET is by far Anderson’s most mainstream film to date. The premise is pretty original compared to what passes for mainstream horror these days: the population of the world simply vanishes one day and only a few folks are left to question why. Soon they learn that shadows have simply swallowed everyone up and must stay in the light in order to not be taken too. Anderson shows a lot of patience and skill behind the camera as the shadows creep closer and closer to a pretty talented cast of big name stars. But there’re also some flaws in this one. Let’s start with the good first, though.
VANISHING sports a fun set of actors at the center of the events. Hayden Christensen is learning to drop some of the woodenness that plagued him in the STAR WARS prequels. Here he plays Luke (did they really have the balls to call him Luke?), a person who wants to be self centered, but events won’t let him be that way. He’s trying desperately to get to Chicago from Detroit, but meets a little black kid (Jacob Latimore), a crazy woman (Thandie Newton), and a wounded man (John Leguizamo). These cast members play off of each other well and Anderson peppers the narrative with flashbacks of how each of them survived the vanishing and what brought them all together.
Anderson sure can fill a scene with intensity. There are a lot of scenes where the shadows are creeping toward one of our heroes. Anderson plays this to a maximum effect most of the time adding real tension to every dark corner or shadowy hallway. VANISHING ON 7th STREET is a good looking film as well. The use of light is pretty spectacular. The backgrounds are so pitch black that when a flashlight or a flare cuts through the darkness, the vibrancy of the light and color of each illumination are simply beautiful.
The scenes at the beginning where we don’t know exactly what’s going on are well paced and put together. I also really liked the Roanoke tie in. This is a chapter in history that has always fascinated me, and to construct a modern day recreation of that missing colony is a good hook to hang some horror. Early on, there’s a scene when Christensen watches news footage of the vanishing caught on tape that is truly haunting. There’s a lot of that in this film.
But to be fair, VANISHING ON 7th STREET has some problems, the biggest being that the actors are put into the same situation over and over. The generator is about to go out. The batteries are about to die. The flare is about the burn out. I lost count of how many times the light flickers and the shadows start creeping toward the stars. This is intense the first couple of times, but after a while, you realize that’s about all you’re going to get from this film. The repetition of this scenario loses its effect after so many viewings.
The transitions between the past and present are a bit jarring at some times in VANISHING and too predictable in others. I sort of think this would have worked better without the leaps in time; if it were told in a more linear fashion. Once the four survivors are gathered together in the bar, it’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD all over again. Why not follow these four on four adventures and then have them all gather toward the end? Ahhh, but I’m getting into hypotheticals too much here. I do it because I really think there’s a good movie in here somewhere and I want to like it.
With VANISHING ON 7th STREET, Brad Anderson has shown that he’s got the chops to handle a big budget horror flick. Having loved SESSION 9 and liked THE MACHINIST a lot, he’s proven to be a filmmaker that I need to watch out for. VANISHING ON 7th STREET has its problems. Basically, it’s a zombie movie without the zombies. But there are some great effects of creeping shadows, disappearing people, and trails of hollowed out clothing which set it apart from your typical zeek. The premise is great. The cast is fun. And there’s some phenomenally awesome blues music sprinkled in between the repetitious scenes of flickering lights and creeping shadows. VANISHING ON 7th STREET just seemed like it ran out of ideas early and just hit repeat until the hour and thirty minute mark.