Vanishing on 7th Street (2010)

Vanishing on 7th Street Poster

Vanishing on 7th Street was directed by Brad Anderson (Fractured, Transsiberian), written by Anthony Jaswinski (Love You to Death, Satanic), and stars Hayden Christensen (Obi-Wan Kenobi, 90 Minutes in Heaven), Thandiwe Newton (2012, All the Old Knives), Jacob Latimore (Like a Boss, Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)), and John Leguizamo (Spawn, Meadowland). It’s about a small group of people trying to survive the ever-encroaching dark that has made most of the local population disappear.

The Plot: Twilight Zone inspired features aren’t hard to find, but they’re hard to nail; most are always overloaded with the bleakness of a setting left scarred, leaving whatever characters are left to put the pieces together. Jaswinski manages to write an inspired homage with a competent survival story that doles out its narrative in small doses, even if the movie itself isn’t quite sure of its details.

While the denizens of Detroit go about their lives, a blackout envelops the city, and the power grid isn’t doing much to change that. Survivors like Paul (Leguizamo) and Rosemary (Newton) bear witness to that change and to many other people disappearing when the light escapes them. Luke (Christensen) wakes up the morning after and is left to wander the streets, gathering light sources and looking for a way to leave the city, though his trek is unfortunately not shown for much time as Vanishing on 7th Street cuts to a later time; three days of darkness have passed before Luke happens upon a bar, containing James (Latimore) and welcome reprieve.

After some introductory tension and Rosemary’s arrival at the bar, Vanishing on 7th Street loses steam in its forward progression, stopping to posit theories about the specifics of the event and when it’ll be over, or if it’ll be over; however it adequately shifts its focus to horror. Biblical overtones are present, with Rosemary’s bet being on a Rapture of sorts and a church being the penultimate destination, but the script never directly answers its questions. Ultimately, this is a wise decision because there’s not much able to satisfactorily explain the premise.

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Once the group finds a disoriented Paul, Vanishing on 7th Street gets back to moving forward, watching the group come up with a plan to get a truck moving with the remaining power sourced from a generator. It’s a simple story with a good premise that works until a disappointing finale as a vessel for some minor philosophical speculation between the frantic search for safety.

The Characters: Superficially, the characters on offer in Vanishing on 7th Street aren’t anything special, offering post-apocalypse archetypes as prefabs for the actors to play, but the presentation of these archetypes and the hints of depth make them compelling to watch.

Luke is a well-off field reporter that at first seems like an outright weasel, waking up next to a lit candle and close to a gift basket from a short sexual affair, rejecting pleas from another survivor for light, and almost leaving James alone once again to fend for himself. He’s not that simple though, as shown via his behavior he still cares for his wife and constantly second guesses himself about his selfish actions. One thing that’s clear on a surface level is that he doesn’t care to know what’s happening or why, he only wants to know where to go to live.

Conversely, Rosemary is the least emotionally complex character, though this is no problem since her presence there is driven by a sympathetic reason – her newborn child. Her first and only reason for being, a fact she admits, is to find her kid. There are hints towards her personal life, like mentioning her child’s father as just that, and assuming he’d be at the bar. Unlike Luke, she’s entirely sure of rolling with the punches the Dark throws at her.

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James is somewhat of an extension of her character, as he’s looking for his mother and seems willing to let everyone else walk out around him but clearly doesn’t want them to, eventually backing down on this attitude when Paul needs rescue. Paul himself is a projectionist with an interest in mysteries; from possible alternate universes to the disappearance of the colony of Roanoke, he’s all about the unknown. He hasn’t done much climbing of the societal ladder, but he’s smart and clearly interested in explaining what others cannot.

Jaswinski’s characters are fine on the surface and fit the needs of Vanishing on 7th Street, but it’s the strong performances from the cast and some small touches from Anderson’s direction that truly make them believable.

The Horror: Plenty of movies use the primal fear of the dark as an asset to their production, but few have ever made the darkness itself the enemy. Through a series of additions to the mere lack of light, Anderson makes this premise work.

The darkness isn’t just a vacuum of light in Vanishing on 7th Street, it’s a being unto itself, as it saps the power grid of Michigan and shrinks the length of the day as the movie goes along, giving the characters less and less opportunity to find methods of escape. This isn’t a passive change though; as silhouettes linger on the edges of the dark’s reach, whispering to the characters in an attempt to get them to wander into their bounds. Mysteries are kept though, as the movie refuses to answer the question of the force’s greater intentions if any exist.

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Survival-based horror is focused on more often than the darkness. The bar is appropriately but cruelly, ironically stocked with food and water for a long time, but that’s not the issue at hand; it’s the level of gas for the generator and its electrical charge that creates the time constraint on the characters.

Gas limitations are one of the most common motivators in post-apocalyptic tales, but with the context of this movie, it feels much more original. Escape is tied to this factor too, with almost every vehicle’s battery drained, except for one that can be charged if the characters can push it to the bar for charging; this challenge creates a much more energetic (pun if you want it) horror atmosphere.

Existentialism is worked into Vanishing on 7th Street as well, with the characters “fighting to exist” amongst the darkness. Rudimentary in its implementation but effective all the same, the massive empty buildings, streets, and gathering locations are eerie and make for some uncomfortable speculation, as does the entire movie, which is a proficient chiller at all times, even if it rarely jolts in a more traditional way.

The Technics: Being no stranger to these kinds of cerebral horror movies, Anderson crafted this outing with style, working around some bumps in the script to bring a masterfully created technical foundation to the movie.

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Post-production tinkering has given Vanishing on 7th Street a distinct look and feel, with pronounced blacks in the color palette along with yellowish-browns and soft whites. For the purposes of the movie, this is a terrific design decision. Furthering the mood are effects done with shadows: several hands reaching from the small shadows of billiard balls, faces cast on walls, and many more touches that give the movie a boost in personality. Frequently these are paired with Lucas Vidal’s (Palm Trees in the Snow, Kidnapping Mr. Heineken) unnerving score, a soundtrack that wavers in key and scratching sound design.

Pacing is a little slack, even at barely 90 minutes of runtime, there’s still some material that could’ve been cut to hone Vanishing on 7th Street’s focus to better illustrate the urgency of the situation. Some of that comes from the script, which at times contains clunkily exposition and favors bickering and theorizing between the group which – while interesting – doesn’t sustain the whole feature.

Anderson’s critical black sheep isn’t perfect or misunderstood, as there’s little to understand, but it has been underrated for far too long. Few movies can make the dark scary; Vanishing on 7th Street is one.

Vanishing on 7th Street is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital platforms via Magnolia Pictures. And if your interest in films like this hasn’t vanished, FilmTagger has suggestions for some similar ones.

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