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2 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Vanishing on 7th Street
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by Jack Sommersby

"Weak Script; Dynamic Direction"
3 stars

It's one of those little oddities that actually plays better on home video, with a darkened living room at night making for ideal viewing.

Brilliantly directed and cinematographically ingenious, Vanishing on 7th Street could have benefited from a better final-third and not so many contrivances, but it's still impressive enough to recommend. It's director Brad Anderson's best effort since his excellent 2002 debut Session 9, which was the best horror movie in several years: basically a haunted-house tale set inside a long-abandoned mental hospital, with endless corridors and rooms and underground passages, it unnerved and scared the living daylights out of me, and was one of the few digitally-shot movies at the time that paid apt attention to composition. Working with a fantastic story idea here, Anderson has realized it fuller in visual terms than the screenwriter has done contextually; granted, he's provided a ghoulishly clever taking-off point, and Anderson has picked up the ball and tried to carry it over the goal line, which, despite some bumps along the way, including an overexplicit, overplayed scene at the midway point, he succeeds in doing. It probably wasn't possible to make something consistently organic in a ninety-minute running time with what is, more or less, short-story material; but it's superior to Frank Darabont's sententious The Mist, which was derived from a Stephen King short story and managed to be both undernourished and overlong. Where that movie's central setting was a large suburban grocery store with scared-stiff customers barricading themselves inside to keep out an array of monstrosities, the one in this case is a big-city downtown bar, where four survivors fight to keep light -- any light, whether it be from lamps or flashlights or road flares -- going so as not to bring on an ever-enveloping darkness that will spell the end of them. The "vanishing" from the title is quite literal: overnight the vast majority of citizens of a metropolitan city (and likely in all cities and towns in the entire country, if not the entire world) have vanished, with the few remaining ones having been lucky enough to have had a non-electric light source going at the time.

The movie cannily opens in a cineplex where Paul, a projectionist with a headlamp, is puzzled when the lights go out in the entire place only for them to come back on with no patrons in the theatre below or employees in the lobby to be seen -- only clothing and purses and the like on the ground, as if everyone had been simultaneously teleported to the heavens. He does come across a mall security guard with a flashlight, but when the man ventures down a hallway to investigate a strange noise, his flashlight goes out, and he suddenly disappears, with only his uniform left behind. We're then forwarded to the next morning, where in a swank high-rise, Luke, a young newscaster, awakens with candles burning by his bed to an apartment devoid of his girlfriend who was supposed to come over; he discovers an empty lobby and equally-empty streets outside with empty motor vehicles strewn about without single person in sight. And then to a hospital, where Rosemary, a physical therapist, is in a panicked frenzy trying to find her nine-month-old daughter amid the empty hallways and rooms. She comes across a still-alive man, with his chest wide open on an operating table, whose doctors and nurses disappeared in the middle of the procedure; when the lights go out again, with her flashlight still by her side, and then come on again, the man has disappeared, too. Seventy-two hours later these three people, with all kinds of light devices tied around their necks, eventually find themselves holed up in Sonny's Happy Hour, which still has power going -- outside neon lights, blaring music from the jukebox, lots of interior main lighting -- along with a thirteen-year-old boy, James, the son of the barmaid. The owner was a paranoid survivalist: in the basement, along with a large gasoline-powered generator that's been keeping everything going, is plenty of food packets and water and a lot of batteries. From this point on, they try coming up with answers to an impossible question while remaining vulnerable to a generator that's starting to work only in bits and spurts, and daylight hours steadily narrowing down with the sun rising later and setting earlier.

It's at this point where Vanishing on 7th Street (the street where the bar is located) will either sate those not looking for a clear-cut reason behind the ominous happenstances or lose those looking for exactly that. Yet it might also put off some who may not need real answers but desire some decent development from here, and, admittedly, it doesn't offer much. We get a couple of flashbacks showing how the physical therapist and teenager survived while everybody around them vanished, and, while interesting enough, they're scenes that add more in the way of variety than verity -- they don't forward the plot-less story or give the audience any pertinent information. And there are some bits that are a bit flaky. We hear inimical-sounding human whispers on the soundtrack but can't be sure if the characters themselves are hearing them. Paul, who's suffering from a concussion, claims that he was held for three days after his light went out but managed to escape when it came back on, and this isn't filled in. But for such a fantastical situation, perhaps keeping some facets unexplainable is a key to keeping us suitably unbalanced. We're never given a reason for the goings-on, of a specific benevolent force at work, and it works perfectly fine this way because Anderson is such an expressive, persuasive director, the stalwart kind who can conjure up mood and tension and atmosphere with the very best of them -- he takes a mere half-baked idea and gives it as much visual intelligence and bravado as it can hold. When a light source starts fading away, darkness immediately invades and seeps into the vulnerable area; whether it's in the bar or outside on the street, Anderson shoots high up, giving us clear spatial logistics of the encroachment; and then when a flashlight or torch reclaims its gleam, the darkness reluctantly secedes -- it's as much a character as the humans. But Anderson and his cinematographer don't make the novice mistake of keeping everything gloomy throughout with only slight variances in the color scale -- the lights represent the humans in a way: their power source, their life force.

The low budget of the production maybe works against it in a way, for we keep expecting more in the way of initial survivors given the size of the city; then again, we can also assume there are more survivors doing their own battle in different parts of the (unnamed) city. The ones on the screen keep our interest more often than not, though they do partake in the occasional dumb action or inaction just so the story can progress, putting themselves in fairly foolish predicaments. There's a hoary device employed just to bring us up short just for the sole sake of doing so: we�re led to believe through the eyes of one character that another character has been claimed only to find that the latter is really the one expired and hallucinated it all. It's "filler" stuff. And would we really despise a hero who doesn't go back and try to save the kid even when he foolishly puts himself in jeopardy and thus puts the hero in it in the process? I think not; especially when he's been introduced as a wise-beyond-his-years, shotgun-toting, streetwise individual. Luckily, the performances are more than acceptable. As the hero, Hayden Christensen, who was so terminally wooden as the young Luke in the new Star Wars trilogy, still isn't much of an actor (though he had some oily panache as the serial fabricator in Shattered Glass), is solid enough as this other Luke. The gifted John Leguizamo, wasted in mostly supporting roles, is fine in his supporting role here, as is the ethereally beautiful Thandie Newton as the female of the lot -- her emotionalism is always translucent, always affecting. And Jacob Latimore is that rarity these days: a credible, capable teen actor sans self-awareness. But it's Anderson's work you keep coming back to. Every shot, every camera move seems exactly right; obviously, he conceived the entire visual scheme beforehand, yet the imagery, while phenomenally well-controlled, never comes off as over-prepared -- it's consistent and fluent, with some of the best widescreen close-ups I've ever seen. When a director's instincts are so alarmingly right, we can forgive that what he's giving big-screen treatment to isn't so enlightening.

Not worth a thousand cheers, but recommendable as far as these things go.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=21408&reviewer=327
originally posted: 04/17/12 23:19:44
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/06/12 Adam Myles Very weak 2 stars
3/29/11 Marius Great slow burn, slow second act, might be a cult classic in 10 years 4 stars
2/18/11 WillSmith fW0KBR Hi! I'm just wondering if i can get in touch with you, since you have amazing conten 2 stars
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  18-Feb-2011 (R)
  DVD: 17-May-2011


  DVD: 17-May-2011

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