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Movie Review: Vanishing on 7th Street July 14, 2011

Posted by ambrosestolliker in Movie Reviews.
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“Stay in the light!”

That’s the tagline from Vanishing on 7th Street, which I watched via Netflix’s streaming service the other night. Despite what the people who reviewed the movie said, I thought it was pretty good. The ones who hated it obviously didn’t catch the subtext of the story’s message. More on that in a bit.

I was attracted to this movie (which, by the way, I don’t think ever had a theater run, so take that for what it’s worth) because of the cast – Hayden Christiensen, the always gorgeous Thandie Newton and John Leguizamo, who’s been a favorite of mine since Summer of Sam. I know a lot of people – Star Wars fans especially – can’t stand Christensen, often accusing him of “wooden” acting. I think he can be wooden at times (Attack of the Clones, anyone?), but I think that has more to do with George Lucas’ inability to write adult dialogue.

I’ve seen Christensen deliver really good performances in two movies (Life as a House and Shattered Glass,) so I’m not ready to put him in the “he can’t act his way out of a paper bag” category just yet. He was pretty good in Vanishing. Not great. But good enough to be believable. I think the guy can act. Probably just needs a strong director.

In any case, Newton and Leguizamo are both good – though none of the actors really hit it out of the park, with the exception of Jacob Latimore, who plays a young boy waiting for his mother to return after the lights went out. Which brings me to the plot.

What I liked: The movie starts out strong, with a really, really creepy beginning. Leguizamo works as a film projectionist while studying for night school (and in the first scene, he’s reading a book about Roanoke Island, also known as The Lost Colony.) The lights in Detroit go out for no apparent reason and everyone disappears for no apparent reason. The only thing that’s left is their clothing, which lays in a heap wherever they last stood. The sun goes down and doesn’t come back up and the few survivors (Christensen, Newton, Leguizamo and Latimore) are stalked by shadowy, wraith-like entities. The only safe place is, of course, in the ever-dwindling light. One by one, the main characters, driven by their own foibles and emotional baggage and flaws, fall victim to the wraiths (I’m actually not sure that’s what these malevolent beings are, it’s just the best word I could come up with) until only the boy (Latimore) is left. What exasperates me about the people who reviewed the movie and called it pointless is that they didn’t pick up on the story’s subtext – that, every once in a while, the world just sort of re-boots. For no apparent reason. Maybe it’s because, as some believe, man is inherently wicked. Maybe it’s because God doesn’t love us anymore (if you believe in that sort of thing.) Maybe it’s totally  random and there is no reason. That’s where the connection to Roanoke comes in. And you know what? The movie is just downright creepy and the special effects, while not dominating the film, lend a lot to the disturbing atmosphere.

What I didn’t like: The movie’s biggest flaw is the lack of character development. The director, Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Session 9) tries hard to intersperse the scenes where the plot is developing with back story on each character. He does so through flashbacks, and it just kind of comes off as clumsy. It makes it hard to really feel sympathy for the characters the way one feels sympathy for characters like Kathy Lutz in The Amityville Horror or Father Karras in The Exorcist (real tortured souls.) Also, the theme of the world re-booting could have been weaved into the plot with a little more élan, in my opinion.

I don’t think Vanishing on 7th Street is Anderson’s best movie by any stretch of the imagination. Session 9 and The Machinist are actually a much better psychological horrors movie – you’re never really sure in that flick whether the protagonist is insane, experiencing a true supernatural haunting – or both. I’d watch Session 9 first. But I enjoyed Vanishing too.

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