What's the big deal?
Vanishing On 7th Street is a post-apocalyptic mystery thriller released in 2010 and was directed by Brad Anderson, the man behind The Machinist. The film depicts a group of survivors attempting to escape a mysterious city-wide darkness that makes people disappear. The film stars Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton and John Leguizamo with Jacob Latimore making his feature film debut. The film was a complete theatrical flop, making just over $1 million (nearly all of it overseas) although it's worth noting that it was only released in the US in six cinemas. The film received a mixed reception from critics and if I'm honest, it doesn't look like Anderson's career has recovered thus far.
What's it about?
A massive and unexplained power outage strikes the city of Detroit. Cinema projectionist Paul notices the lights at the cinema go out and heads off to investigate, using his head-torch that he had been using for reading. He discovers piles of clothes scattered across the theatre as though everyone has simultaneously disappeared. Bumping into a security guard with a torch, Paul deduces that anyone with a source of light is protected. After the security guard's torch goes out, he too disappears and Paul notices that his headtorch is starting to fail as well.
The next morning, TV news reporter Luke Ryder wakes up and slowly realises that the entire city is practically deserted and devoid of power. Cars have been abandoned in the middle of the road and clothes have been left on the floor as people have seemingly just vanished. Arriving at his station, Luke witnesses a recording of his girlfriend vanishing on air when the lights go out and Luke begins to understand what has happened. Scared, desperate and seemingly alone, Luke begins a perilous quest to survive the darkness and somehow escape the city...
Release Date (US)
7th January, 2011
Horror, Mystery, Thriller
What's to like?
It's no stretch of the imagination to say that Vanishing On 7th Street doesn't get much right in its limited running time but we always start with the positives. Newton and Leguizamo offer much better performances than this film deserves - Newton's distraught mother searching for his missing baby gives her scenes badly needed depth and Legiuzamo's paranormal fantasist gives so badly needed attempts at exposition, tenuously linking the film's events to the real life disappearance of the Roanoke colony in the sixteenth century. And yes, both of them act the ever-wooden Christensen off the screen.
The film's best scenes are its opening ones which set up the remarkable premise with genuinely creepy scenes and the occasionally effective jump-scare. Perhaps the most disturbing shot in the film is the plane silently crashing into the ground in the distance behind Christensen. Despite the lack of any actual monsters or murderous aliens, Anderson works hard to make the lack of an antagonist actually pay off and for the most part, it kinda works. You never understand why the events are happening but for about the first 30 minutes, you find yourself swept up in the mystery and the fear that permeates the picture.
- Christensen plays a news reporter called Luke in the film. In his two biggest previous roles, Christensen played a news reporter who fabricated stories in Shattered Glass and Anakin Skywalker (the father of Leia and Luke) in Star Wars films Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith.
- The cast members would often jog on the spot in between takes in order to maintain the intensity required for their roles.
- The film makes several references to the disappeared colony of Roanoke which remains an unexplained mystery to this day. The colony was fortified but abandoned, the only clue being the word 'CROATOAN' being carved into a palisade (the same word also appears in the film). It was believed that the word implied the colonists had left for nearby Croatoan Island but no trace of the colony was ever found.
What's not to like?
The film has several issues which scupper any chances it may have had. Christensen is as bad as he normally is, utterly failing to register any flicker of empathy for the character while not escaping the novelty for the audience of seeing what Anakin has been up to since the end of his time in Star Wars. You never buy into his role and when he's the glue holding the characters together, it means the film drifts apart like a shipwreck. But as good as his supporting cast are, it doesn't alter the fact that they all behave like morons. There isn't any real tension in the picture, partially because they isn't anything other than the dark to be frightened of but also because the darkness is portrayed by some seriously defective CG, ill-animated hands reaching out in overly dramatic fashion whenever our heroes conveniently trip up and allow them to possibly get them.
What's really annoying is that the film starts off in an intriguing direction but the film's direction disappears as quickly as one of the background characters. It's like there was one good idea at the beginning but little in the way of following up on it. Before too long, the film is a serious of increasingly silly scenes featuring characters haunted by malevolent shadows and stupid decisions. If anything, the film could almost have been an advertisement for Duracell or Energiser with a bit more work as the characters seem to spend half the time scrambling around for batteries. As it is, this is a incoherent and meaningless chiller that works all too briefly before crashing and burning in an oddly dull fashion.
Should I watch it?
I wouldn't bother. The only purpose I can think of for Vanishing On 7th Street is for Mr Christensen to explain what he's been doing since 2005 as well as explaining why he's been consigned to straight-to-DVD releases ever since this film's release. It has a spark of interest to begin with but the film sadly descends into a childish and badly produced nightmare with little-to-no exposition and even less actual frights. Newton and Leguizamo deserve better than this and so do you, dear reader.
Great For: anyone afraid of the dark, anyone who has never seen a horror film, the deeply paranoid
Not So Great For: horror veterans, Brad Anderson or Hayden Christensen's career, anyone expecting a film to make sense
What else should I watch?
Another reason why this film is so disappointing is because of director Brad Anderson's pedigree. The Machinist is another chiller but a far more effective one, led by a skeletal Christian Bale as an insomniac factory worker plagued by visions and nightmares. As a chiller, it is so more effective from the disturbing sight of Bale after his extreme weight loss to the omnipotent presence of John Sharian as his nemesis Ivan. Crucially, the film manages to tie together all the seemingly random events into a truly heartbreaking story that explains the film's meaning. Whereas Vanishing On 7th Street lets you try to figure it all out but only gives you half of the puzzle pieces.
In a non-flattering sense, this movie reminded me of the equally ridiculous and ill-explained chiller Gothika which sees Halle Berry imprisoned in the same prison psych ward where she works, having apparently killing her husband. Like this film, it's all about tone and style and Gothika adapts a similar atmosphere to The Addams Family, only played with deadly seriousness. There are far better psychological horror films out there from the dark and disturbed Black Swan to the resolutely indie drama The Neon Demon to the largely pointless remake of Flatliners - in fact, it's hard to think of many films worse than this one.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox