PLOT: A city wide blackout results in almost the entire population of New York City disappearing in seconds. Only a handful of survivors are left, including a reporter (Hayden Christensen), a physiotherapist (Thandie Newton) looking for her son, and a projectionist (John Leguizamo). The three survivors hole up in a generator powered bar, operated by a twelve year old boy (Jacob Latimore) whose mother is among those that have been taken.
REVIEW: VANISHING ON 7TH STREET feels like director Brad Anderson's stab at the mainstream, as this is probably a more conventionally entertaining film than THE MACHINIST or TRANSIBERIAN. It's a cleverly written and shot story that should do quite well if it picks up the right distributor at TIFF.
Whether or not this gets a wide release (although I think it will), I have a strong feeling that VANISHING ON 7TH STREET will resonate with a lot of readers of this site that understand that good horror is not always equated with a big budget or lots of gore effects. Anderson's a master at mood, and like his earlier films, mood is what this is all about.
The idea behind the film sounds suspiciously like the God-sploitation series LEFT BEHIND, with only a handful of survivors being remaining after the rest of the population disappears. However, this has nothing to do with religion, and when one of the characters brings up that this sounds like the rapture, she's ridiculed.
Rather, the idea behind this is that “the dark” has simply come to erase us all, and throughout the film, our characters are stalked by the shadows, with people disappearing once they run out of light. Guns are unnecessary, with flashlights being the most needed weapon, especially with the shadows obscuring day, plunging the city into an almost permanent night. The atmosphere is very creepy and unsettling, yet also completely gore free, so I wouldn't be surprised if this ends up a PG-13 when it eventually comes out.
Still, this is one time that the PG-13 actually works, as all the gore in the world would not make this a scarier film. It's more like an old Val Lewton chiller from the forties, or a good episode of TWILIGHT ZONE and for me, this approach is much more effective than most “hardcore” horror films I see.
One of the key elements Anderson uses to keep the chilling mood going is an excellent soundtrack, featuring a lot of sixties/Phil Spector wall-of-sound hits by bands like The Marvelettes. These tracks really enhance the mood and are an inspired addition to the film. The Digital Red One photography is also quite good, with most of the film being shrouded in darkness, although not to the extent that you can't make out what's happening on screen (although a digitally projected print is probably the way to go with this, as the photography might be obscured if transferred to film).
As for the cast, well, that was my big question mark going into the film. Anyone who's read my review of TAKERS knows I'm not a Hayden Christensen fan. However, he's proven that he can be effective if he gets the right director (SHATTERED GLASS), and he does quite well under Anderson. His tough-guy posturing from films like TAKERS or FACTORY GIRL is absent here, and he's fine as a young TV journalist trying to figure out what the f*** is going on.
I was less concerned with the involvement of Thandie Newton and John Leguizamo, as they've both proven to be more than capable actors in the past, and they both do fine here. Newton does overact a tad in her introduction, but from that point on she dials it down a bit. Leguizamo is perfection, with this being a meatier role than he's had in a while.
The other lead character is played by young Jacob Latimore, as James- a frightened twelve year old. Latimer is very solid despite his young age, and his performance is made all the better in that he's never precocious- which is a trap many directors fall into while working with kids.
For the most part, I really enjoyed VANISHING ON 7TH STREET. It's a very lean (under ninety minutes), well-constructed chiller that will hopefully be coming to a theatre near you before long. Anyone who enjoys a horror flick that's heavy on atmosphere will enjoy this. It's not particularly scary, but it's still a very moody and effective flick.