Vanishing on 7th Street
Hayden Christensen as Luke
Thandie Newton as Rosemary
John Leguizamo as Paul
Jacob Latimore as James
By James “Crypticpsych” Lasome
Paul (Leguizamo) is a socially awkward movie projectionist; Rosemary (Newton) is a physician’s assistant with a newborn; Luke (Christensen) is the local news’ field reporter; and James (Lattimore) is the son of a loving bartender mother. One evening, all four of them are going about their normal lives, ignorant of one another, when a sudden blackout hits. When the power returns, each of them discovers that everyone around them at the time of the incident has vanished completely, leaving nothing behind but their clothing. Cars lie empty in the middle of the road and planes drop from the sky.
It appears that something lurks in the darkness that will whisk away anyone not protected by the presence of light. As the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer it becomes increasingly difficult for the survivors to protect themselves, and running around with flashlights around their necks or glowsticks in tow our heroes converge on a bar that is fully lit because of a backup generator. Now they must find a way to survive the long night before whatever lurks in the shadowy darkness envelopes them and takes them away.
Much like director Brad Anderson’s earlier haunted asylum flick Session 9, the keys to the success of Vanishing on 7th Street are a well-handled concept, brilliant use of atmosphere, and mostly great performances. First, the idea of a sudden event or disaster that completely wipes out life as we know it, while seen fairly often in zombie movies or alien invasion flicks, feels new here due to Anderson’s handling of the after- effects, making them scarier than the incident itself. In fact, while watching, I couldn’t help but think of another movie from that subgenre: The Happening. Both movies have John Leguizamo in a supporting role, an environmental or religious subtext, and a group of survivors fighting an unseen force. However, Vanishing on 7th Street is more effective and better than The Happening because of how chilling Anderson is able to make his villain (the dark) through camerawork, great music, and excellent visual effects of shadows and blackness flowing in and stalking sources of light. Something as simple and cliché as flickering lights become a legitimate source of tension in his hands, and he should be commended for his efforts in that regard.
In terms of acting, Thandie Newton gives a great performance in an almost “den-mother” role. She becomes James’s surrogate mother and Paul’s caretaker while still showing herself to be something more than just your average shrieking damsel. Latimore, in his first feature role, does admirably well, particularly in a flashback to happier times. One hopes for more roles for him in the future as he seems adept at handling juicy parts like this one. Easily the star of the film, however, is Leguizamo. The range of emotions his character Paul has to show over the course of the film, be it awkwardness, pain, anger, frustration, resignation, joy, fear, self-pity… every single one hits home effectively and believably. His performance is easily the most sympathetic, relatable, and compelling in the film.
Unfortunately, there are some flaws that keep Vanishing on 7th Street from greatness. The biggest, by far, is the uneven performance of Hayden Christensen. His character Luke never seems to know if he wants to be a sympathetic hero or an anti-hero, but mostly makes the wrong choice in that regard and comes off as an unlikeable jackass. Luke certainly has his hero moments, but none come close to redeeming his character or changing the fact that the movie, by making him the focus, seems to be asking the audience to do the equivalent of rooting for Harry Cooper over Ben inNight of the Living Dead. In addition, while the special effects are well-done, they are inconsistent in execution. Sometimes, the instant the shadows hit someone, they’re gone; other times it seems to take a little extra time. Finally, the ending of this movie, while believable, is overly corny and out-of-tone with the rest of the film.
Overall, Vanishing on 7th Street is an effectively atmospheric, creepy, and generally well-acted chiller. It may have its flaws, but they don’t stop it from being a good, worthwhile film that might make you remember why you were afraid of the dark.