Thursday, 19 May 2011
Vanishing on 7th Street
Starring: Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo, Jacob Latimore
By Alan Bacchus
The title of this picture has a very Twilight Zone feel to it. Perhaps it's by design. After all, the high concept at core here is clearly influenced by the seminal work of TZ writer Richard Matheson. It’s the I Am Legend/Last Man on Earth scenario recycled again. Some kind of unexplainable apocalyptic disaster results in a massive power outage, but not just electronics – the sun itself. There are no zombies or vampires in this case. Instead, it’s simply darkness itself representing the evil lurking and stalking the survivors.
The director, Brad Anderson, is the main attraction here. Genre-philes know him from his brilliant low-budget horror film Session 9. Unfortunately, his subsequent efforts, the moody, atmospheric mind-bender The Machinist and the Hitchcockian train-actioner Transsiberian were too faulty to match the promise of Session 9. Despite some minor tingling of the spine in the opening act, Vanishing on 7th Street is not a return to form.
It’s a terrific opening. Bone-chilling, actually. Hayden Christensen is a television news producer who is caught in a massive power outage. But when he searches out others in the building, he discovers everyone is gone – literally vanished, with their clothes on the floor the only remnants of their places on earth. We see the same thing happening through the eyes of Paul (John Leguizamo), an AMC Cinema projectionist. The imagery of the clothing left on the floor outlining the vanished bodies is stunning.
Where did they go? What happened to them? We don’t know exactly, but some kind of evil force in the shadows creeps up and steals their bodies and souls. Much like The Fog encroaching on the villages of John Carpenter’s seaside town, the shadows on 7th street are eerie and scary supernatural entities.
Brad Anderson shoots these scenes with great precision, using a slow and purposeful pace to amplify every moment of suspense. But after this set-up with the four main characters congregating together, the second act stalls. Unlike Night of the Living Dead or 28 Days Later or even Shaun of the Dead, the foursome, which also includes a young boy and a hysterical mother who has just lost her child, is hopelessly dull and uninteresting. As customary, the group tries to piece together what’s happening in the rest of the world, hypothesizing about what kind of apocalypse they’re in, and specifically, how to get to some kind of safe haven located in Chicago. Unfortunately, the group is too passive, and without this forward momentum the film runs out of gas quickly.
Thandie Newton, who plays the crying and inconsolable grieving mother, is like fingernails on a chalkboard and plainly looks lost in this kind of genre film. Hayden Christensen does a decent job portraying Luke as a twitchy, reluctant leader. John Leguizamo’s back in this kind of role – remember his turn as the obsessed parent in the similarly-themed Shyamalan film The Happening? He’s crippled with an injury for most of the film, which is an unfortunate and unintentional metaphor for the staleness of the film’s second and third acts.
Brad Anderson does the best job he can, creating a unique and unsettling atmosphere. But like The Machinist, with very little script or characters to work with, his tonal aspirations amount to just another forgettable horror film.
Vanishing on 7th Street is available on Blu-ray and DVD from EOne Entertainment in Canada.