After the Lights Go Down Low
A near miss with potential rather than a “terrifying, apocalyptic thriller,” Brad Anderson’s Vanishing on 7th Street fits into a long line of semi-horror offered mostly in B movies. The few left standing when all about them succumb to whatever supernatural, manmade or extraterrestrial menace, must survive, by wit and pluck, or join the ranks of the decimated.
An immediate insurmountable difficulty here involves Anthony Jaswinski’s script which posits that enemy as arising in “one of humankind’s most primal anxieties: fear of the dark.” While incomprehensible blackness must have frightened early humans out of their skulls, lack of light is the bane of visual media. A deserted Detroit is well pictured but lasts only minutes, the rest left in candle- or flash- or headlight that dulls plot and people instead of contributing to a presumably desired sense of claustrophobia.
Fair enough, the shadows -- the shapeless ones that would envelop all and the more benign-looking man- or woman-shaped kind restricted to vertical structures -- need not be explained or given a raison d’être. But then rationales supplied or suggested are silly or distractive: physical therapist Rosemary’s (Thandie Newton) musing on departed souls in heaven calling to the living in this hell of a world; David Rubin’s broadcast from similarly stricken Chicago about malevolent lying creatures; closing church images of guttering out candles, ineffective beatific carvings, Virgin and Child, Jesus with arms outstretched.
Almost everyone’s physical body disappears in Motor City, leaving behind outward slough in eyeglasses and piles of jackets, shoes, trousers, uniforms, even operating-table sheets, only five remaining behind: elusive in white-and-pink little girl Briana (Taylor Groothuis), and three adults and twelve-year-old James (newcomer Jacob Latimore) who battle a balky generator in Sonny’s Bar on 7th Street. The adults’ outside lives around the first moments of the blackout are shown only briefly, so as they grow together there are the usual fill-in revelations of their lives, unwisely and unnecessarily so because only Rosemary’s baby is of any relevance to what goes on.
His Channel 7 field reporter’s job having ruptured a marriage to Anna and led to a romance with station weathergirl Paige Taylor, Luke (Hayden Christensen) is the group leader even if his instincts incline towards self-preservation rather than reaching out to help others. Projectionist at the Fairlane Centre AMC multiplex, where Dead Town Black screens at 7:55, Paul (John Leguizamo) thinks of himself as unsuccessful with women, reads Mysteries of Dark Matter in the booth, and is the only one who has had direct experience of the strange forces taking control, but his memories of that and of how he came to be bloodied and screaming on a bus-shelter bench, are fuzzy. As if there were not enough hocus-pocus hinting, the chapter he had been reading dealt with the lost colony “Citie of [Sir Walter] Relegh,” disappeared in 1591 with “CROATOAN” carved on a tree; Paul recounts the episode, and these same letters are later shown incised or printed on a girder.
Frightened James guards the meeting-place last refuge with a shotgun, waiting for his mother to return from a nearby church.
Sunlight hours grow shorter, pitch-blackness lasting until well after 11 am, though a lurid final sun sets behind the cityscape from I-94. Dogs bark, a providential black horse feasts from overturned apple crates, but all else is at silent standstill. Power is gone or going. Some battery charges linger, but the drivers, too, are gone, their empty cars a symbol of the Motor City and its current real woes.
That it is children who clip-clop off from church away from the sunset might suggest something, but, like too much in V7thS, really does not. Like James’s mother’s bar’s AMI Compact Disc jukebox that sputters and skips girl-group and soul Motown, the film does not live up to the spark it could have offered. The two departing children of light cannot illuminate what has gone before.
(Released by Magnet Releasing and rated "R" for language.)