Bathed in shadows and shrouded in mystery, VANISHING badly wants to resemble some of the best “Twilight Zone” episodes (the title even sounds like one). Waking up alone in a world of darkness where light is your only safety makes for a very intriguing premise, but unfortunately the script doesn’t know what to do with it and the movie runs out of steam at an impressive rate. The first fifteen minutes or so are actually pretty creepy and involving, as you’re plunged in to the strange situation alongside the characters. The shadowy figures that threaten the light are spooky at first, but like they plot, they get old and repetitive pretty quickly.
I can see how Anthony Jawinksi’s script might look better on the page. Given more time to explore the world or take advantage of the slow-burn nature of the story would even make VANISHING work great as a novel. But as a 90 minute thriller, the pacing, tone and dialogue just don’t come together. The majority of the movie is people sitting in a bar talking, as the audience is itching to see them explore outside…or do anything interesting, really. Hayden Christensen hilariously overacts in every scene (take a shot every time he refers to a generator as a “genny”) and Thandie Newton also overdoes it as a distraught mom looking for her baby. John Leguizamo suffers the worst though and is left making long philosophical speeches about computers rebooting, nature resetting and history lessons about Roanoke. It reminds me a bit too much of his character from THE HAPPENING. (And here people run from shadows and darkness just like they ran from the wind in THE HAPPENING!)
I’m also torn about the supernatural forces which [SPOILER] are never explained. On one hand, I’m a firm believer that audiences don’t need to be spoonfed information and I can appreciate being vague in a film like this. But given the characters and the long setup, I feel like we needed at least a hint of what was going on. Otherwise, the movie just feels like an exercise in allegorical or philosophical nonsense that we can’t connect to. (“I exist!”…really?) Add to that a bizarre ending that came out of nowhere, didn’t make much sense and was unsatisfying, and VANISHING ON 7TH STREET left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
Commentary with director Brad Anderson: I was looking for anything from the typically-great filmmaker to explain why he chose this project or where it went wrong, but didn’t really get anything. There’s lots about how things made it to the screen though, including some interesting tidbits about filming on location in Detroit.
Alternate Endings (8:22): Three versions of the exact same ending with only a couple of shots difference. A waste of time.
Behind the Scenes (2:13): A montage of footage from the shooting too short to really make an impact.
Revealing the VANISHING ON 7TH STREET (7:04): Typical interviews with cast and crew who shockingly speak highly of the film.
Creating the Mood on 7th Street (4:23): A bit on setting the tone of the film with production design and using Detroit as a backdrop.
Fangoria Interviews (30:23): A nice chat between director Anderson and actor Jacob Latimore, who plays the young James. Not particularly exciting enough to warrant a half hour of your time, but they do cover a lot of ground.
HDNet: A Look at VANISHING ON 7TH STREET (4:21): A PR fluff piece.
Extra Tidbit: How ironic that I watched this movie on May 21, 2011, the day of the supposed rapture.