Time for another dose of midweek horror, I think. The first I heard about this flick was a trailer on a rented Blu-Ray a couple of weeks ago. It takes low profile to new heights, but here for your edification is…
You’ll keep your lights on.
When the lights go out in Detroit, everyone disappears except for a handful of strangers who managed to avoid the darkness. As they slowly lose power, they also lose any reasonable grasp on what is happening. It seems the shadows are stealing bodies, leaving only the empty clothes behind. Four of these survivors gather in a bar on 7th Street that still has power, but the darkness is gathering just outside. Hilarity ensues.
This 2010 movie from director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) is a spooky little indie with a main cast of only four actors. Written by Anthony Jaswinski, it could be cynically described as Pitch Black meets Stephen King’s The Langoliers, though the premise is considerably creepier than either one: There are no nocturnal aliens, or flying mouths that eat everything left behind while time moves on. If you get caught in the shadows, you simply cease to exist.
Anderson gets the story off to a very good start, parlaying the sinister set-up and his limited budget into a chilling first act. Unfortunately there are a few gaps in the plot that only get bigger as things progress, and a clumsy attempt to tie the events into the infamous Roanoake disappearance is just one step too far.
A real strength for the movie is with the depiction of the evil these people have to face. I’ve said it before about horror movies, but Anderson and his DP Uta Briesewitz already understand that what you don’t see is always scarier than what you do. Nowhere is this maxim more true than when your monster is darkness itself. The malevolence is portrayed via some nifty sound design and the racing edges of the shadows being subtly transformed into grabbing fingers reaching out to claim another victim. I actually had a little shiver there just typing that sentence, and I have no fear of the dark personally.
For a flick of this type, the cast is surprisingly strong. John Leguizamo is Paul, a cinema projectionist saved by his headband flashlight. Thandie Newton plays Rosemary; a devout woman desperate to find her missing infant. The much-maligned (including by me, though not for the last movie I saw him in) Hayden Christensen imbues his character, Luke, with a very believable selfishness. Even though he is the de facto leader of this small tribe – by dint of being the only one not either loopy or a child – he’s no inspirational front-man. Finally we have “and introducing” Jacob Latimore as James, the young son of the bartender where the survivors assemble. It’s just a shame the script was quite so prone to plot holes; a little tighter and this could really have been a minor classic. As it is, Vanishing on 7th Street doesn’t quite have what it takes to stick the landing.