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Hayden Christensen as Luke
Thandie Newton as Rosemary
John Leguizamo as Paul
Jacob Latimore as James
Directed by Brad Anderson
Brad Anderson is one of the most versatile and talented young directors working today. He has amassed an impressive list of TV and film credits, and any new work of his is cause for excitement and anticipation.
All of which makes something like Vanishing on 7th Street all the more disappointing. It feels like a minor, early entry in a great director’s filmography, something that has its moments but ultimately falls far short of greatness.
While the vast majority of at least the United States has actually vanished, the focus here is on 7th Street in an unnamed metropolitan area. The three major characters are introduced one at a time. Paul (John Leguizamo) works at an AMC Theater and is manning a projection booth when all the power goes out and everyone just disappears, leaving only clothes behind in random clumps.
Rosemary (Thandie Newton) is a physical therapist at a hospital when the vanishing happens. Luke (Hayden Christensen), a local news correspondent, wakes up at home and heads to the station to find empty streets and everyone gone.
72 hours later, the trio ends up in a dive bar along with a fourth survivor, a kid named James (Jacob Latimore). They speculate causes (nuclear war, aliens, another Roanoke) and plot a course of action. Meanwhile, the days are growing increasingly shorter and the darkness is not a safe place to be.
They take you in the darkness. They being shadows, some of which are in human form. If you stay in the light, whether it’s a flashlight or the glow of a jukebox, you are safe. But the bar’s backup generator isn’t going to last forever, and neither are the batteries at their disposal.
Vanishing on 7th Street might have made a good Twilight Zone episode, or a good short film. As a feature it simply does not work. The desolate urban area was pretty cool in The Devil’s Advocate, but that was almost 15 years ago. The idea is played out now, and the limited budget means very little of the city is actually shown.
The villains, as it were, never manage to convey a sense of terror despite rapidly wiping out mankind. There are a lot of scenes of shadows converging on someone, so many that it becomes redundant. They are sort of awkward, and it’s difficult to not wonder why anyone ever thought this would be scary.
While the acting is perfectly respectable, there is no character development whatsoever. We meet these people either as they greet this strange new world or immediately after. We don’t learn anything about them besides their name and a basic detail or two (Luke is separated from his wife; Rosemary has a newborn son; James is desperately looking for his mother).
The entire movie is centered upon these four people reacting to their new surroundings, and nothing that happens to them is interesting enough to compensate for the fact that they remain one-dimensional from start to finish.
Anderson is a gifted director, and he manages to compose a few chilling sequences (the highlight is a place crash near the beginning), ensuring that it’s not a total wash. But the perfunctory conclusion is a fitting metaphor for the entire film. It meanders to an abrupt end and leaves behind the distinct feeling that something is missing. Here’s hoping Vanishing on 7th Street is just a small misstep in an otherwise strong career.