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Brad Anderson’s “Vanishing on 7th Street” opens like a movie that knows its premise has been revealed in countless pre-release trailers already. This allows it to jump right into the middle of things without wasting precious minutes on set-up. In short order, we have learned that something bad has happened to the world’s population, though what that “something” is remains unknown. This mysterious event, which begins with a blackout, has “taken” most of the population right out of their clothes, leaving behind only a few scattered survivors, each one trying to stay one step ahead of the encroaching darkness that seems to last longer and longer each day. And oh yeah, there are things inside the shadows — dangerous, deadly things – shadow people, if you will — that can mimic your loved ones and trick you into leaving the sanctuary of your lights.
Soon, the few remaining survivors converge on a brightly lit bar on 7th Street, where a young boy name James (newcomer Jacob Latimore) waits patiently for his missing mother to return. He is joined by Luke (Hayden Christensen), a local field reporter. Luke believes there are other survivors in Chicago, and plans to go there. The unlikely duo are soon joined by Rosemary (Thandie Newton), a physical therapist searching for her baby, and movie theater employee Paul (John Leguizamo), who comes to them bleeding from a concussion and end-of-the-world theories. As the survivors huddle inside the bar on 7th Street, momentarily saved by a working generator, the darkness outside seems content to wait them out. As Luke informs the others, it’s exactly noon outside, but it is already pitch black. What are the chances that another morning is coming at all?
If you are afraid of the dark, it’s best not to venture into Brad Anderson’s “Vanishing on 7th Street”, because the film is likely to give you nightmares. For everyone else, “Vanishing” is an excellent, under-the-radar thriller that opens strong and rarely lets up. Anderson, who has not really done a horror feature since 2001’s “Session 9”, doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to generating atmosphere. As with “Session 9”, “Vanishing” isn’t really scary as it is intense. As the survivors try to make it through another long, seemingly endless night, the generator in the basement coughs and sputters and the lights flicker ceaselessly, and darkness is always threatening out of the corner of one’s eye. The thick atmosphere Anderson manages to infuse the film with is all the more impressive because “Vanishing” is clearly shackled with budget limitations, and its one big action set piece is a plane falling from the sky that you’ve already seen in the trailers.
Long removed from George Lucas’ “Star Wars” prequels, Hayden Christensen continues to make amends for those three steaming piles of turd. Whenever you think Luke is a selfish jerk, he goes and does something that convinces you he is more complicated than that. Thandie Newton plays crazy pretty well, but like Luke, initial first impressions about her character prove inaccurate. John Leguizamo actually has the least to do, and at times Paul seems to exist purely to fill out some exposition. Odd, since the film opens with him. Young Jacob Latimore holds his own as a scared boy with a big shotgun, while Taylor Groothuis is suitably creepy as a young girl who continues to appear to the survivors throughout the movie, though whether she is really one of them or another trick by the darkness is a good question.
Anderson and screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski seem unsure about how to approach the question of what has happened to the rest of the world’s population. Is it some kind of rapture? Act of God? A giant, cosmic computer “rebooting” as Paul suggests? Paul is filled with such absurd theories (or are they?), one more ludicrous then the next. The once-upon a time hard-living Rosemary believes it is some kind of judgment, past sins returning to haunt them. For his part, Luke seems to care very little for answers; he claims that he is alive because he willed himself to stay alive. One thing’s for sure: after having been burned by so many similarly themed movies with out-of-nowhere Third Act Big Reveals, I was glad that “Vanishing on 7th Street” decided to take a different approach. As perhaps a concession to some members of the audience, Anderson and Jaswinski do provide an answer of sorts toward the end, though the validity of that answer is open to interpretation.
”Vanishing on 7th Street” opens in limited release February 18, 2011, but is currently available through Video on Demand.
Brad Anderson (director) / Anthony Jaswinski (screenplay)
CAST: Hayden Christensen … Luke
Thandie Newton … Rosemary
John Leguizamo … Paul
Taylor Groothuis … Briana
Jacob Latimore … James