Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Vanishing on 7th Street (2010)

Saving on monthly light bills since 2010

This has what's usually either a straight horror, thriller or action/sci-fi premise with the world at large gone missing and where the survivors have to piece together what's left to save their own skin and move on. Though it plays out more as a drama/mystery with some scattered suspense and scary moments in a thriller/horror variation. It could have been the perfect cinematic experience as the audience is presented with a unique idea, however it lacks on the developmental side of its own concept and ends up feeling like a mini series that got abruptly canceled before the pay off. "Vanishing on 7th Street" creates a dividing point: some are going to love the stark ambiguity, while others are going to desire more from its outset.

The film concentrates on four random individuals in Detroit when a sudden power outage occurs and almost everyone instantly vanishes. They find not only the people that are normally walking about instantly missing with only their clothing left as a reminder, but also their friends and loved ones. Seventy two hours later and Luke (Hayden Christensen)--a field reporter who woke late and discovered everyone gone with empty vehicles in the streets to show for it--is now in a routine by scavenging batteries and flashlights from cars that you think is only used to walk around in the dark with. Soon enough screeching shadows that swallow up light take out a man who's lighter ran out of fluid. The sun is setting and rising in less intervals according to him, so any source of light is a survival tool. A share of the film is incredibly dark as a result, though it often plays with shadows, such as encroaching hands and looming silhouettes on the walls. It's hinted that humans get turned into incorporeal beings, though it's not alluded to if the shadows are there to harm, help or just take over everyone's individualism to their ways. For all we know, a mad scientist did an experiment for the world's ultimate solution of going green: we lose our physical form that has been draining the Earth's resources and eroding the ozone layer. Jokes aside, the film is that open ended and it takes away from its lasting impact without some kind of richer outline in place.

Luke spots a bar on 7th street that has all of its lights on. Inside he meets James (Jacob Latimore), a boy of 12 who's got a loaded weapon, booze and a working gasoline run generator to give massive amounts of illumination. A woman eventually named Rosemary (Thandie Newton) bursts through the door in a desperate panic after experiencing the first day in a hospital looking for her son. Luke is on his way out, James wants to stay in case his mother comes back and the Rosemary doesn't want to give up on her baby boy. They hear the cries of a man named Paul (John Leguizamo) outside, who was previously a projectionist at a bustling movie theater. Paul is found with a head injury and a story to tell. Back in the bar the whys and emotional turmoil of moving on from their former loved ones takes hold. There's a share of talk between the characters as to what it all potentially means. Though it's left at: it is what it is, and the characters move on.

After setting up its premise, this concentrates more on the emotional impact of the situation rather than the survivalist aspect like seen in many of these films. So the characters being clouded by feelings end up making mistakes that a clear headed person most likely wouldn't, such as lighting anything around them on fire or conserving energy. The performers grab up a deal of focal point but they don't always hold their own, partly because they're given limited range. Hayden Christensen stands and moves about handsomely, though delivers some forced lines when attempting to get sentimental; John Leguizamo goes from the information guy to acting hurt; the others are mostly on about their family members. They try to beat out the clock of the generator with half their focus and hope for some kind of luck. The film is somewhat inevitable with its title, as it centered more on the characters losing their chance of making it when trying to bring back what they had before with normal human interaction after a bout of loneliness and turmoil for several days. That portion makes it a hopeless situation and hard to relate to, as the closer they get to other humans their chances are lessened of all getting away.

The film's minimalism leaves your mind to roam for other aspects to cling onto. Granted there are some momentary scares and added amounts of creepiness here and there. However this also doesn't give reasons or even motivations towards what's happening and literally leaves you hanging in the dark. In life, shadows are a common occurrence in that they follow you everywhere. That's an intriguing concept to turn around because you can't escape them. But the relating factor of instilling danger by giving them the power to make us vanish, while making it big enough to be a global crisis seems too made up without some kind of ground work or motivation. This isn't just a haunted house with strange happenings or a recognizable risk waiting to happen. In "The Birds" we thought to understand these animals that innocently fly and chirp everywhere we go. The mind is familiar with birds, but what strikes fear is when they suddenly attack us without warning when we're unprepared. You can see what they're doing with their razor sharp beaks and claws, even though it's not understood exactly what's causing their disarray. This film has people vanish, never to show how their physical form disappears, why they're needed or where they go. It seems too broad and abstract an idea to get inside the movie because there's no central driving point besides darkness, which us humans are capable of adapting to anyway.

Some films can go too far with an explanation such as "The Happening" by leaving the audience with a dumbfounded expression. Though movies that also concentrated on the emotional human element of interacting with each other after or during a crisis, such as "The Road" and even "Night of the Living Dead," didn't state exactly why it was happening either but were still effective in that you got something from observation. They didn't need a thorough explanation laid out for the audience. Though enough was there to think about in the afterwards, such as "The Road" dealing with sacrifice and our loss of humanity, and then "Night of the Living Dead" dealing with governmental control and humans including themselves in their own food chain. Both films were able to lock you into their world by establishing more ground work behind what's mainly going on in the foreground.

To its credit, "Vanishing on 7th Street" was shot well with a dedication towards atmosphere. Director Brad Anderson's "Session 9" and "The Machinist" had a flair for mood. He has that part handled, except he didn't write this and that's the major down turn here. This had some inventive setups and some cool dreamlike scenes that gave it a different mode to teleport yourself into. Unlike other films in horror, you don't get that pay off of seeing a cruel way to go out, nor a perspective from the other side, whether it's hellish or not. They're essentially just shadow beings that moan and will bathe you in eternal darkness for no sustaining reason. What you see is what you get. I guess that's evil to some, but we still don't know their story. I mean "King Kong" looked to be just a beast that terrorized a city of helpless people, though he was also ripped from his home and taken there by humans. A distracting intermittent musical string effect is used at points that starts low and ends high for a few seconds and ends up becoming an overused norm that you can count on.

I usually love these type of films that deal with empty streets and apocalyptic overtones, and this had some feeling put into it instead of flying right through. Though it played down its concept and it felt like the film left itself at a sketch but then expected the audience to do more of the leg work to fill in the rest of picture and make it more interesting beyond what it was.

Rating: 4.5/10

Director: Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist)
Stars: Hayden Christensen, John Leguizamo, Thandie Newton, Jacob Latimore
Link: IMDB

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