Midnight Madness 2010 day 4: Vanishing on 7th Street (2010)

Brad Anderson's newest film, Vanishing on 7th Street, is a somewhat post apocalyptic horror. When everyone in the world simply vanishes, leaving behind only their clothes where just a moment before they were existing, four survivors find each other in a dive bar and attempt to justify what is happening around them. It becomes apparent that the only thing keeping them from becoming "vanished" themselves is their proximity to sources of light. Whatever is taking people seems to be in the shadows, or possibly is the shadows themselves.

The film has an extremely eerie atmosphere to it. Anderson uses wide shots exposing the recently vacated landscape and while scanning the background you may see evidence of  life that must have been there seconds earlier. Say like a wheelchair gliding into frame and slowly coming to a stop. Almost every shot features shadows and there are two different entities that linger within the unknown. There is the impending shadow that moves like an ink blot on paper trying to smother all light it can grasp and then there are shadows of the people that should be existing but are not. The film's sound design is covered in whispers and calls, putting hope in sound in this situation is a big no no. The shadows call to the survivors, sometimes talking forms of lost loved ones while at other times it seems like the shadows are strangers doing nothing more than observing always echoing whispered sentences that end in "... I exist"

While the film is worth the watch just to immerse yourself in this situation, the character driven story is problematic and feels weak. For the first half of the film the writing is very awkward and stiff yet, by the time the pace quickens the snags seem to work themselves out. This is not due to the performances, everyone here does a great job including Hayden Christensen who I have yet to forgive for Star Wars. There's just no way to say some of these lines and not have it feel awkward.

Also a big wag of the finger to once again having a film where a kid does something frustratingly stupid putting the lives of others in peril. Kids in post apocalyptic scenarios are just bad news. If the world was fucked and you are luckily enough to survive and come across a child, i don't care how long it's been since you've seen another human being, shoot them. They'll only bring you trouble.

Overall, Vanishing has a terrifically terrifying atmosphere and has some great existential ideas. The script could have been smoother, and the children could have been non-existent. A good, not great, film that plays like a better Twilight Zone episode.


Well, I suppose it had to happen.  It was merely a matter of time.  Last night was the first film in the Midnight Madness program that didn't leave me completely satisfied.  An ok - not great - film from director Brad Anderson.  What is perhaps most frustrating is that Anderson's career trajectory has thus far been ascendant.  Recall Session 9, in my top 5 (if not 2 or 3) North American horror films of the oughts.  Then came The Machinist, a super taut and unsettling work of psychological and physical horror. Transsiberian was next, and while it didn't really break new ground, it was a decent, if unspectacular little thriller in the Hitchcock mould.

His latest film, and the one we saw last night, is Vanishing on 7th Street.  It stars Hayden Christensen, John Leguizamo, Thandie Newton, and newcomer Jacob Latimore.  There is a power outage early in the film and pretty much everyone goes missing, the only remains are the deflated clothes that people were wearing at the time of their vanishing.  Like the characters in the film, we are kept very much in the dark (excuse the pun) as to the wherefore and why of the mysterious and menacing disappearances.  What we do know, is that the days are getting drastically shorter, batteries are draining, and if the characters find themselves engulfed by the darkness (which itself seems to always be oozing toward them, grabbing with inky tentacles at them...soul?  existence?), they too will vanish, becoming a part of the darkness itself.  Creepy.  And the film was.  Creepy, I mean.

In what is essentially a zombie-less zombie film, the 4 characters remain holed up in a generator-powered bar, the last bastion of light in the darkness.  They don't know if day is ever going to come again.  With Leguizamo concussed, Christensen hobbled, and the other two characters crippled by youth or religious convictions, the group is going to have a tough time surviving.  But the trouble is, not much happens - we get the menacing darkness, and there is much in the way of each character's attempts to rationalize the vanishings to his or herself.  However, no one is really compelling, and cryptic references to the Roanoke Colony that are supposed to be forboding instead kind of fall flat.  In fact, many of the intended "scares" don't really work (although there are tow quite effective ones, the better one being ripped almost comically directly from Session 9).  I think this is less Anderson's fault and more that of scriptwriter Anthony Jaswinski.

There is a good sense of eeriness in the shadows themselves, but overall the film left me wanting.  Not a horrible film, but not great either.  The open-ended and ambiguous aspects of the film are intended to make the works more mysterious, and we were told afterward by Anderson that you can basically project whatever you want onto the thing.  Ok, that works sometimes, but here is just smacked of laziness, or a kind of cop-out.  If the director doesn't care about what happens to the characters, why should we?  Anyway, hopefully this is a minor blip on Anderson's CV, and he recovers with his next film.  John Carpenter tonight!!!!

-the coelacanth

fotos copywrong Kris

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