An enjoyable low-budget horror flick, Vanishing on 7th Street has all the thrills and chills you could hope for from a film like this. Starring Hayden Christensen (of Star Wars: Episode II-III fame) and John Leguizamo, this film deals with an apocalyptic black-out that ushers in a deadly darkness.
Most people are afraid of the dark because of what’s hiding in it, but this indie horror film introduces audiences to a more horrific idea; darkness itself is deadly. After a city-wide blackout, almost everyone suddenly disappears. One minute they’re standing there, the next they‘re a heap of empty clothes. A few survivors quickly learn that the darkness itself is killing people, or taking them, or something…and only light can keep the darkness away. But the days are growing shorter, and batteries are running down with eerie rapidity, and the darkness has a few tricks up its sleeve.
As far as atmosphere and mood, this film hits all the right notes. The small group of survivors who find each other are a disparate bunch; some fatalists, some half-mad with grief, and some religious zealots. All looking for answers, all panicked, and all unpredictable; which means great rising tension and thrills. The special effects are done with a light touch, which is much preferred in movies like this where too much cheap CGI would be more than noticeable, it would be distracting. The Darkness is a character, and audiences are treated to eerie and sometimes chilling use of it throughout the movie. Its fingers reach toward the points of light, toward the survivors, and sometimes forming into ominous and vaguely human silhouettes. Like the shadows of souls waiting for the light to disappear. Except these souls aren’t friendly.
Luke (Christensen) is the one of the main characters, who stumbles upon a dive bar because its neon sign is lit. It turns out a little boy is hiding inside, keeping a generator running and waiting for his mother to return. The generator provides electricity to the bar, but it looks like the generator is breaking down for some unexplainable reason and won’t last much longer. Thandie Newton plays a distraught mother looking for her baby, and she stumbles into the bar covered with glow sticks about the same time as John Leguizamo’s character. They all have a reason for still being alive, and through a series of flashbacks the audience re-lives the immediate aftermath of the black-out through each of the characters’ eyes. The batteries are all dying, and the glow sticks don’t last very long either, and when all the light is gone there will be no escaping the Darkness, which some believe is demonic.
One drawback in doing horror on a budget is a lack of the little luxuries, like in-depth character development and a real fleshing out of the story concept. A script might be a neat little package, and the special effects good, and the horror effective, but without developing truly sympathetic characters, the movie suffers as a whole. And the lack of concept development leads to things like weak or vague endings. In horror this is a commonly committed crime anyway, but in lower budget horror it’s rampant. In an attempt at artistic metaphor, the film’s ending is too vague, and not in that good think-for-yourself way. The narrative breaks too abruptly and leaves too many questions unanswered. Vanishing on 7th Street is still a decent watch despite these handicaps, which speaks to the caliber of the actors (there’s 99 percent of the budget!) and the novelty of the story.
This film is another little gem from the “genre film” arm of Magnolia Pictures called Magnet Releasing. Magnet puts out a few films a year, mostly limited release (film festivals, etc.) then straight to VOD and DVD. This particular movie is coming to a few select theatres next month, but is available now on VOD. I say little gems because unlike most low-budget horror there are some great directors and real acting power behind these films.
The director of Vanishing on 7th Street has directed some of the greatest indie horror movies out there. Brad Anderson directed Session 9, one of the best horror movies (indie and blockbuster) ever made, in my opinion. He also directed The Machinist and Transsiberian.
Overall, for the type of film it is, Vanishing On 7th Street isn’t bad. It plays with some interesting ideas, and the acting isn’t all that bad. It provides a good atmosphere and is genuinely spooky at times. It may not be a great film, but is it worth a watch? I think so. If you can overlook the flaws, you’ll find a fairly interesting horror film. I would say this film is top-tier indie horror, which isn’t saying much, but still, it’s worth a watch on a slow night.