What would you do if, in the blink of an eye, everyone suddenly vanished, leaving behind only rumpled clothes where they once stood? There have been many "what if everyone suddenly vanished" movie scenarios over the years, but none quite like 'Vanishing on 7th Street.' It still follows the basic formula of end of the world, post-apocolyptic, rapture films, but it feels a little different.
One day everything is fine. People on earth are going about their routine lives when a major blackout suddenly occurs. Lights go out every where; a collective scream from the planet's inhabitants. When the lights come back on, they're all gone. It seems that the only people left are people that somehow had their own light source when the power went out. Paul (John Leguizamo) is saved from being swallowed up by the shadows, because he's wearing a headlamp as projectionist at a movie theater. Rosemary (Thandie Newton) is saved because right at the moment of the blackout she lit a cigarette. Other survivors include Luke (Hayden Christensen), a local TV news reporter and James, (Jacob Latimore) a young kid in a bar who's waiting for his mother to come back.
We soon find out that this disappearance en masse may not have been the rapture. Everyone is gone, except these few people who end up meeting up at a local bar with a backup generator.
There's something in the shadows though. The shadows are alive, waiting for the opportune moment to strike, whenever the last light bulb flickers and goes out. Luke, Paul, Rosemary, and James must try to fend off the shadows with any means of light possible. Why they don't light a giant fire in the middle of the city is beyond me. Oh, and every other movie seems to have an endless supply of torches, but sadly they didn't here. Too bad, these people really could have used some torches.
'Vanishing on 7th Street' can at times be a smart, scary thriller, but it's weighed down by a lackluster script and some wooden acting from who else, Hayden Christensen. I'm pretty sure I've liked Christensen in only one movie and that movie was 'Awake.' He was supposed to be cardboard-like, but here he's supposed to emote. The shadows are out to get them, but his lack of facial acting betrays him. He stammers his lines, but never makes them believable. Most of the time, when he's yelling, it's hard not to laugh. Leguizamo acts circles around him, but the script is so benign that even he seems bogged down.
Flashbacks are given for the characters, but they never really reveal all that much about them or their situation. They almost feel like padding instead of actual worthwhile information.
I do like that the movie never feels a need to explain itself or why all of this is happening. It just is, and that's that. There are times when the movie doesn't follow the very rules that it's set, which becomes rather bothersome. When the lights went out the first time people were snatched quickly without mercy. After that, our main characters crawl around in the dark as shadows slowly encircle them but only traveling fast enough for the characters to nearly escape. Maybe the shadow people are tired and have become lethargic, or maybe the movie is playing tricks on us.
It feels strange reviewing a movie like this only days before the supposed end of the world. May 21, 2011 has been projected as Judgment Day by Harold Camping, head of Family Radio Broadcasting. If indeed May 21st is the day of the rapture, I'd just like to tell the shadow people that I have a stockpile of torches and I'm not afraid to use them.
The video presentation of 'Vanishing on 7th Street' is a peculiar one.
A film set almost entirely in darkness and director Brad Anderson opted to film with the Red One camera. Nothing against filming on Red, but the digital filming doesn't tend to accurately depict believable dark scenes. In digital filming blacks seem to always appear flat, without depth, and that's what happens here. If a movie about shadows can't really get the shadows to look right, then it isn't going to look as good as it could have if it would have been shot on film. That's the case here. 'Vanishing' looks flat and has a post-process look to it that just doesn't jibe. Much of the film is bathed in a gimmicky golden filter. While detail is nice, with faces and textures showing a good amount of visible intricacies, there is a glaring technical issue that needs to be mentioned. Banding is evident throughout the movie. Bands of gray and light black surround flash lights. They pulsate around the borders of slow moving shadows. It's hard to miss the persistent banding that appears throughout the movie because so much of the movie is shot in darkness.
All in all, this really isn't an impressive HD transfer.
'Vanishing on 7th Street' has been given a generous 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track from Magnolia. This is an encompassing, engrossing audio mix that will keep you interested and engaged in the movie.
I was most impressed by the use of ambient sound as the soft whispers from the shadow people can be heard bouncing around the side and rear channels. It actually caused me to turn my head more than once thinking that someone was talking outside. The audio mix encircles you and makes you feel like you're right there in the eerie darkness which is waiting to swallow you up. Dialogue is always intelligible, while LFE is provided in generous amounts during the more intense scenes. An explosion from a commercial airliner crashing into a city street will rumble your couch.
I really enjoyed this audio presentation, and it kept me involved in the movie even when Hayden Christensen was on screen.
'Vanishing on 7th Street' is a serviceable end-of-the-world horror movie, but it fails in a couple of key areas. At times the acting in horrendous, and the script never really seems to get going. The shadow creatures are unnerving though, and I must commend Anderson for using a slow, methodical horror menace instead of a jump-out-and-scare-you one. Seeing the shadows slowly materialize is much freakier than seeing some monster pop out from around a darkened corner. The video leaves a lot to be desired, but the audio is near demo-quality with its 7.1 goodness. This one comes lightly recommended.