The sky has gone dark, the shadows are crawling, and the vast majority of the human race has simply dematerialized in Vanishing on 7th Street, a high-concept chiller from Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist) that plays like Night of the Living Dead by way of The Twilight Zone, yet never gathers enough force to break any new ground despite some stylish direction and deliciously mind-bending moments.
Detroit has fallen ominously silent; the power to the city appears to have been cut off, and the streets are littered with the clothes of people whose bodies are nowhere to be found. Desperate and terrified, movie-theater projectionist Paul (John Leguizamo) seeks shelter with television news reporter Luke (Hayden Christensen), frightened physical therapist Rosemary (Thandie Newton), and trigger-happy 12-year-old James (Jacob Latimore) in an inner-city bar owned by James' mother, who has apparently vanished along with most of humanity. Momentarily safe thanks to a power generator that keeps the clutching shadows at bay, the group ponders how to stay alive as Rosemary fears what fate befell her missing infant son, and Luke conceives a plan to seek out his estranged wife in Chicago. When the lights start to flicker, the fight for their lives begins.
Few contemporary filmmakers embrace horror as openly and effectively as Anderson without becoming confined by it. With frequent work on such popular television dramas as The Shield, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, and Fringe, Anderson has proven that he can engage an audience just as effectively as he can frighten them. But with precious little character detail and practically no discernible plot development, Vanishing on 7th Street ultimately becomes a victim of its own seductive simplicity. Compound those somewhat forgivable deficiencies with some genuinely cringe-worthy performances from virtually the entire headlining cast, however, and you’re left with a thriller that never hits the perfect stride while attempting to outrun the shadows of its shortcomings. Sure, at this point we've practically been trained to expect the worst whenever Christensen opens his mouth in a movie, but the fact that nearly every line Leguizamo and Newton deliver is equally as awkward hints that the problems with Vanishing on 7th Street began long before the actors stepped in front of the camera.
Although Anderson has established himself as a director with the ability to engage his audience intellectually while simultaneously scaring them silly, this time he misses both marks by a fairly wide margin, despite one or two hair-raising individual shots that play like fragments of a particularly terrifying nightmare spliced into the film. And though some viewers (this one included) may find it somewhat refreshing that screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski refuses to offer any explanation for the tenebrous phenomenon that seems to be swallowing up the entire planet, there simply isn’t enough happening context-wise to keep us engaged in the story as the entire scenario grows increasingly grim. In writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s equally apocalyptic, hypnotically terrifying 2001 masterwork Pulse, modern technology served as the gateway for supernatural beings to enter our reality and infect our minds with despair. In many ways Vanishing on 7th Street plays like an American cousin to Pulse -- but stripped of the brilliant social commentary that made that film one of the most celebrated and respected of the entire J-horror trend.
In its defense, Vanishing on 7th Street is one of those rare films that wastes absolutely no time setting up its eerie central concept, and dumping a diverse group of characters into a situation where they must fight for their lives against an unknown force. If only Jaswinski’s screenplay had been a bit more harmonious with Anderson’s direction, and the actors could have achieved the right tone to make the dialogue work, perhaps Vanishing on 7th Street would have been genuinely terrifying, rather than just casually creepy.
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- Released: 2010
- Rating: R
- Review: The sky has gone dark, the shadows are crawling, and the vast majority of the human race has simply dematerialized in Vanishing on 7th Street, a high-concept chiller from Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist) that plays like Night of the Living Dead by… (more)