Vanishing on 7th Street is the latest cryptic pseudo-sci-fi hologram by shockmeister Brad Anderson (The Machinist), a director more interested in effects than the reasons for them. It begins in a movie multiplex where a lonely projectionist (John Leguizamo) is rolling spools of film through a lens darkly when the cinema goes totally black. Roaming through the seats, he discovers that the audience has vanished, leaving their coats and popcorn in the empty seats. Director Anderson used to work as a projectionist after graduating from Bowdoin College in Maine, so he’s just doing what comes naturally. I don’t know what accounts for the rest of the movie. The power is out all over town, the streets are filled with discarded cell phones and abandoned cars with dead batteries. Everything is fading, including photographs, erasing all proof of the existence of human life. The sun is shrouded in blackness. A noxious shadow creeps across every wall and sidewalk. Nuclear attack? A judgment from God? As the days pass, daylight hours are reduced. The only living things that survive are those who cling to some alternate form of light.
Still breathing during this mysterious calamity is a desperate group gathered inside an old saloon powered by an emergency gas generator: the paranoid projectionist, a vain and pompous TV personality (Hayden Christensen, who has matured nicely since his brush with Star Wars) forced to live by his wits for the first time without an audience, a distraught doctor (Thandie Newton) whose child is missing and a shotgun-toting black kid (Jacob Latimore) waiting for his mother to return. To stay alive, they must join forces to find alternate sources of light and a way out of the city, while avoiding being touched by the menacing, moving shadow that destroys everything in its path. Alien abduction? A black hole in the universe? Divine punishment for man’s earthly sins? The action in Anthony Jaswinski’s mordant script involves darting from one light source to the next and the direction consists mainly of movements lit by matches, cigarette lighters, torches, a truck’s dying headlights and a flashlight with a dying battery. Under the circumstances, you find yourself rubbing your eyes a lot in need of an opthamologist and blinking like you have a nervous disorder. Mr. Anderson has evidently watched a lot of old Twilight Zone reruns. So much of the film’s dense, murky palette evokes menace without mayhem, but the wrap-up at the end by Rod Serling is sadly missed. The actors work hard to convey terror–especially Mr. Christensen, who proved he could act when he played disgraced journalist Stephen Glass in the marvelous, underrated Shattered Glass–but the panic that overtakes the characters never quite grips the audience. Ultimately it weakly questions the reason for existence, but Vanishing on 7th Street doesn’t make much of a point. On the screen, the night never ends, but luckily, the anxiety is over in 85 minutes, and outside the cinema, daylight awaits.
VANISHING ON 7TH STREET
Running time 85 minutes
Written by Anthony Jawinski
Directed by Brad Anderson
Starring Hayden Christensen, John Leguizamo, Thandie Newton