Don’t expect answers from this atmospheric horror film.
Vanishing on 7th Street, the new film from director Brad Anderson and writer Anthony Jaswinski, is a frustratingly good film.
The story is simple enough: A quartet of survivors of the apocalypse attempt to prolong their lives by avoiding the dark — where instant death awaits those that venture out of light’s protection and into the outstretched fingers of the shadows. Don’t expect many answers in this tense horror film — even though mysteries are as prevalent as the whispers that torment the survivors as they barricade themselves in a bar.
Vanishing on 7th Street is not a movie for those that get upset when a film lacks a clear resolution or neatly packaged finale. Those frustrated with the series finale of Lost should just check out right now. Characters’ fates are as much up in the air as the deep, unsettling truths behind the widespread blackout that caused the instantaneous disappearance of thousands in Detroit and possibly the rest of the world.
Hayden Christensen stars as Luke, a Detroit television reporter who awakes from a long night to find the world has changed around him. The streets are empty — clothing lying on the ground where people once stood. As he pokes around Detroit looking for answers, he begins to hear whispers coming from the shadows and the outstretched arm of darkness (literally personified as a giant arm with a multitude of fingers) beckoning at him.
Days pass as Luke searches for answers and he quickly learns that answers aren’t nearly as important as flashlights and batteries. Days are getting shorter and the darkness is bringing other weird phenomena —electrical devices failing moments after being turned on, batteries loosing their juice quicker and the voices of the long dead calling out to the few survivors who scurry through the streets of Detroit.
Luke quickly finds sanctuary in a bar where he meets up with three other survivors: Paul, a movie theater projectionist played by John Leguizamo; Rosemary, a woman played by Thandie Newton who is searching for her vanished baby; and James, a young boy played by Jacob Latimore whose mother tended bar in the trio’s newfound sanctuary.
Vanishing on 7th Street is not a movie about why people disappeared — although the characters, during one scene, quickly rattle off a lengthy list of possible theories as if to satisfy those in the audience already squirming in their seats at the lack of answers. Instead, the film is about the drive for survival. Luke, Rosemary, Paul and James are alive because they willed themselves into existence. They fought against the darkness and have continued to fight — though the temptation to just give in and let themselves be taken over by the shadows overwhelms each of them on occasion.
The movie continuously builds up a thick layer of dread — utilizing a mixture of eerie sound effects including baby cries, moans and what sounds like animal noises to give the darkness a voice. As the survivors find their situation growing more and more hopeless, the film builds towards the inevitable — stringing audiences along with each troublesome new development.
Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned a few times before, Vanishing on 7th Street is not a movie about resolution. All the building of tension ultimately never quite leads to a satisfying conclusion — at least on the visceral level. Thematically, the movie hits all the right notes — showing the weight on a soul that is constantly having to fend of an ever-encroaching doom. But sometimes an audiences needs the visceral with the thematic and all of Vanishing‘s grade-A philosophical pondering can’t make up for the slight disappointment found at an ending that fizzles into the abstract.
Anderson’s film is heavy in atmosphere. Because the film’s threat is darkness itself, Anderson fills the edges of every frame with a living, breathing enemy. The shadows slip and slither through every shot of the film — nipping at the survivors as they debate the few options they have left. Darkness often overwhelms the movie — shrouding scenes in a murky inkiness as audiences strain their eyes to make out the action that’s happening in any given scene. This makes the relatively bright lights at the bar sanctuary a dearly treasured commodity not just for the survivors but for the audience at well — helping to add to the audience’s emotional connection as they are just as desperate to keep the lights from going out as the survivors are.
Their sanctuary, a dive bar filled with flickering neon lights, offers a warm protection against the darkness — though Anderson wisely lights the bar so that jagged shadows bounce off every nook and crany of the location — a constant reminder that no light can stay lit for too long in the film’s post-apocalyptic world.
Christensen, who has gotten a bad rap as an actor thanks to the Star Wars prequels, shows that he does indeed have some serious acting chops — turning in his best performance since 2003’s Shattered Glass. The rest of the cast is equally impressive — easily chewing up and spitting out the film’s Rod Sterling-esque dialogue in a rapid-fire tone that is faithful to the morality tales of the Twilight Zone that surely inspired Jaswinski’s script.
There’s a lot to like in Vanishing on 7th Street. The film’s palpable tone and unrelenting tension helps to make the movie a great, creepy experience for horror fans. While the lack of any clear resolution might turn off a lot of audience members and does take away a bit from the film’s ride-like experience, it also opens the movie up to many interpretations — something that most cookie-cutter horror movies tend to shy away from. It’s rare that a horror movie sparks a viewer’s imagination in the way Vanishing on 7th Street does. Like the tendrils of darkness that slither at the feet of the film’s survivors, the movie nips at the imagination of its audience.
Vanishing on 7th Street is now available to rent On Demand. It will be released in select theaters on February 18.
Director: Brad Anderson Notable Cast: Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton and John Leguizamo Writer(s): Anthony Jaswinski
Robert Saucedo is an avid movie watcher with seriously poor sleeping habits. The Mikey from Life cereal of film fans, Robert will watch just about anything — good, bad or ugly. He has written about film for newspapers, radio and online for the last 10 years. This has taken a toll on his sanity — of that you can be sure. Follow him on Twitter at @robsaucedo2500.