Vanishing on 7th Street is a classic example of where a writer will have an interesting premise, but no idea where to take that premise. In this case, the writer, Anthony Jaswinski, came up with an interesting idea, but just didn’t know how to execute it.
The film begins on a day like any other. Paul (John Leguizamo) is a projectionist at a movie theater and is going about his job when all of a sudden the power goes out. He soon realizes that all the people are gone, leaving behind piles of clothes. We then cut to Luke (Hayden Christensen) who wakes up to find that his girlfriend is gone. As soon as he steps outside he too notices that everyone has vanished. While trying to find his girlfriend, he notices that there’s someone or something in the shadows all around him, trying to get at him, but he quickly discovers that the best way to keep these shadow creatures away is with light.
After a few days pass, we find Luke roaming the city, trying to find sources of light, batteries, and a car that will start. This search leads him to a bar that still has power from a backup generator. It is here that he finds James (Jacob Latimore), a kid who is waiting for his mother to come back. Soon after, they are joined by Rosemary (Thandie Newton) and, after a quick rescue, Paul. The four of them hold up in the bar, trying to figure out why this is all happening, what the creatures in the dark are, and what they’re next move should be.
This is a film that had looked interesting from the trailer, but what we end up with is a story that feels like an over-extended episode of The Twilight Zone. It certainly wouldn’t have looked out of place if Rod Serling had stepped out of the shadows to deliver the prologue or epilogue. The funny thing is, the main thing that ends up hurting Vanishing on 7th Street is its skimpy narrative. This probably would have made a fantastic short story, perfectly suited for Serling’s classic show, but to try and stretch it out without having enough story to do so is simply the wrong approach.
Another failing in the film is that the characters themselves are just not interesting people, nor are they developed very far, and for a film that is going to restrict itself to four characters stuck in one location, this is a rather important aspect that should have been thoroughly thought through. Luke is just a regular guy who woke up to find himself in this situation, but soon realizes that his girlfriend is gone. Beyond this and his will to survive, we don’t get very much about him, giving us little reason to care about his character.
The same could be said of Rosemary, who’s trying to find her baby, and James, who’s waiting for his mother. Paul is even less developed as a projectionist who just happens to take an interesting in strange mysteries like Dark Matter and the disappearance of the Roanoke colony. Generally, when characters are developed this little, you’re not really going to care about what happens to any of them, so instead, you hope for the story to pick up the slack and get you intrigued, but sadly that doesn’t happen here.
As I mentioned before, the film happens mostly in one location, the bar with the backup generator. If Jaswinski was going to restrict his story to this one location, he needed to make sure that his characters either had plenty to do or plenty of interesting dialogue to push the story forward, but he just wasn’t up to the task. Instead, the story consists mainly of quick speculation of what’s happening, including some doomsday talk, as well as several narrow escapes from the shadow creatures.
Taking a look at the film’s few well-done aspects, there’s the eerie atmosphere that the filmmakers are able to set up due to the production design and special effects. The shots of Detroit (where the film was shot) with empty streets and vehicles strewn about are particularly effective, especially the wide shots early in the film. Then there’s the effects of the shadow creatures themselves. Throughout the film, we see the shadows sliding along the walls in pursuit of their next victim. There are also several times where this is accompanied by human figures within the shadows, adding to the mystery of who or what they are.
The third act attempts to build up the excitement by having the remaining characters attempt to flee the city, but it all ends up being incredibly anticlimactic with no real ending to the story. This is not saying that the mystery has to be explained at all, but just that a little bit of closure would have gone a long way for this film that was already testing the patience of its audience. It somewhat leaves the film open for the possibility of a sequel with the survivors, but after how poorly this film was received, it’s highly unlikely that we’d ever see one get made.
The director, Brad Anderson, has had a hit and miss career. In 2001, he made the atmospheric but disappointing Session 9 with other highlights being The Machinist (which I’ve never seen, but have heard good things about) and the excellent thriller Transsiberian. His filmography suggests that perhaps he would be best with leaving behind the horror genre and sticking with making more thrillers.
The film itself is very dark and the transfer presented here can be hard to see, but the main parts of the film are pretty clear. Black levels take a hit at times during these darker sequences, making for a sometimes frustrating viewing experience. Aside from that though, things are pretty good. Facial detail is usually strong while fleshtones look mostly accurate and overall it’s a pretty clean picture.
The audio is sharp and easy to hear. The film was made on a fairly low budget ($10 million), so the score is simple and the sound effects are low-key, the most memorable of which were the sounds of the shadows. Dialogue is prioritized and always clear and crisp and ambient sounds definitely do their job.
There are several special features, but quantity doesn’t equal quality, especially in this case. First we have some alternate endings, which aren’t really alternate at all. It’s the same ending with a few shots difference, so they’re not really worth wasting time with. The two most interesting special features are a pair of behind the scenes featurettes that include quick interviews with the cast and crew where they talk about how the film came to be, their thoughts on it, and how it was to work on it. A third behind the scenes featurette is merely a montage of footage of the crew at work.
Also included are a pair of interviews with Brad Anderson and Jacob Latimore conducted by Fangoria. They total up to about 30 minutes and aren’t really worth the time as the same material is covered in the more interesting featurettes. Finally, there is a feature commentary with Director Brad Anderson. A 15-minute sampling of this reveals that he basically covers the same material again (how the movie came about, what it was like to work on it) and includes a lot of “In this scene, we have…” as he describes the scenes as they come up.
Overall, Vanishing on 7th Street is a bit of a missed opportunity. The idea presented is not exactly original (stay in the light or something will get you), but the premise here could have made for an interesting film if Jaswinski had developed the story and characters further. Without these elements, it just ends up being a rather dull film that repeats itself until it gets around to its unsatisfying ending. This is one to skip.
Vanishing on 7th Street is a classic example of where a writer will have an interesting premise, but no idea where to take that premise.