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Vanishing On 7th Street (Frank's take)

01/03/2011. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Vanishing On 7th Street in the USA - or Buy Vanishing On 7th Street in the UK

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The shockmeister duties continue to be the haunting trademark for filmmaker Brad Anderson ("The Machinist") as he helms the latest shadowy creepfest Vanishing On 7th Street. The noted realms of inspired spookiness and sci-fi chilliness are evident.

Still, there is sense of a stylish and flinching thriller that gets lost in its own murkiness. Anderson has always captured that sense of imaginative macabre-making twitches dating back to 2001's Session 9. Nevertheless, Vanishing On 7th Street echoes an incoherent nightmare that aimlessly whispers its terrorising current without much impact or impulsiveness.

Screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski's morbid script and Anderson's meandering direction is swallowed up in literal darkness as an apocalyptic existence for eerie atmospherics telegraphing the menacing vibes. However, Vanishing On 7th Street never settles its ghostly gumption coherently while opting for its transparent trickery of manufactured tension, anxiety and the density of ominous flashbacks. Encroaching darkness and garrulous characters awaiting their victimised fate is not enough to convince one of the pseudo-Twilight Zone theatrics that bombard Anderson's tease of a horror show.

The background for Anderson's pulsating playground of darkened mystery takes place in Detroit. Projectionist Paul (John Leguizamo) is dutifully running reels of film in the theatre when all of a sudden a blackout occurs. When the lights return a stunned and freaked out Paul discovers that the seats are emptied and bodies are gone. Leftover clothes and food are remnants to consider and faint screams are heard within the thickening shadows. Interestingly, Paul even catches a glimpse of a man being snatched into the abyss of darkness.

In addition to Paul's introduction regarding the dark and disappearing souls, two other survivors are spotlighted during this insane episode. Physical therapist Rosemary (Thandie Newton, "For Colored Girls") is at the hospital doing her rounds when the darkness approaches only to find that the staff and patients have vanished into thin air. Rosemary panics about her missing child. Speaking about a child, a gun-carrying pre-teen kid named James (Jacob Latimore) is on hand during the scuffle as he awaits the presence of his mother. Self-absorbed local TV anchor Luke (Hayden Christenson) is bewildered by the strange happenings of absent humanity in the dank and vacant city as evidence of life is mirrored in piles of clothes, litter, emptied cars and buses, abandoned airliners, etc.

Wisely, the perturbed pack gather at a local bar that's fortunate enough to have electricity courtesy of a working generator. Thankfully, old Motown tunes and a flickering light is the needed source for these lost souls to collect themselves as they figure out how to overcome the crisis that stares them daringly in the face.

Soon, the so-called visceral shock value is ridiculously reduced to the overuse of flashlights, candles, creaky generators, flares, matches, dying batteries—anything that can muster up some decent lighting so that the periled protagonists can avoid the "road to ruin". Naturally, the bickering amongst the group as the monotony for searching one's destiny to live is heightened by the fear of the unknown.

Of course the film proposes a slew of inquiries: is this The Rapture as we know it? Is this band of abandoned personalities the last folks on Earth in the aftermath of an unknown monstrous occurrence? Has man reached his extinction courtesy of religious retaliation? Maybe some sort of alien force has overcome civilisation? Plus, what freakish figure is the cause of abducting human flesh in the midst of an everlasting black hole of sinister suspense?

Theoretically, Vanishing On 7th Street wants to percolate as a perplexing philosophical puzzle as we try to piece the chaotic circumstances drenched in doom and despair. Unfortunately, Anderson's neurosis-ridden narrative is not skilful or intense enough to pull off this harried revelation. The premise is rather simplistic and straightforward: a handful of sad sacks ducking and dodging the inevitable castration that lingers for them. Frustratingly, the movie methodically suggests a fate worse than death but the bottom line is predictably pat—the jolt of creepiness that persists never matches the logic of the distraught moments.

The panic mode is conveniently situational and formulaic as we never invest any real concerns or intrigue into these one-dimensional characters that merely serve as aimless ambassadors to the convoluted showcase of bumps and grinds that play into the nocturnal nonsense. Christenson's smug and shallow reporter seems too indifferent and awkwardly conceived for the world that is crumbling around his attempt at self-inflicted redemption.

Newton's medical diva Rosemary acts as if she escaped the set of a soap opera due to some of the melodramatic overtones that does not fit the film's shady albeit flimsy aura. Leguizamo's projectionist could have used more introspection in light of the trauma that overwhelms him. The random gloom is synthetically stretched out and does not make for a credible creepy caper within the post-apocalyptic genre.

The misplaced madness behind Vanishing On 7th Street is wasted raw meat that fails to shape itself into an appetising wonderment of thrills and chills—much like Anderson's last feature Transsiberian where the inviting moodiness and angst was more respectable in disillusionment.

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