Brad Anderson has had one heck of a weird career. Whether it be the almost really good Session 9 to the interesting The Machinist to the countless great television shows he’s directed episodes of [Treme, Boardwalk Empire, and The Wire for starters], he’s always been one to watch.
One to watch.
Unfortunately that kind of potential eventually has to go somewhere interesting or else it runs the risk of evolving to where a talent becomes one to dismiss. I’m beginning to doubt Brad Anderson as a filmmaker to watch having seen Vanishing on 7th Street, an extremely one-dimensional concept stretched out to feature length. It’s almost like an Outer Limits episode except where those shows found ways to escalate the tension in their finite running time, this one never rises above its scary idea to deliver anything more than a diversion. Within the confines of episodic television such a sin is more forgivable but in an era where so many things are competing for the entertainment dollar there simply has to be something to justify the time commitment. As a result, this is one I can only recommend for people who totally buy into the high concept and with extremely subdued expectations.
Night has fallen on Detroit, Michigan. We don’t know why. We don’t know how. All that’s known is that the darkness holds certain death with its shadowy figures and hushed voices and the way people’s bodies disintegrate when they come into contact with it. It’s a creepy premise and when comparisons are made to the amazing story about the lost colony of Roanoke it gets even creepier. There are even moments where it appears that there’s a religious connection to the crisis, and it’s hard not to expect the film to continue peeling back layers and building a mythology.
Instead, Vanishing on 7th Street is more about showcasing people trying to survive. Keeping the batteries from failing. Running through the streets as the shadows close in. Finding the will to live in a world where everyone you love is gone. Chasing the sun. There’s not a lot of depth and it hurts the overall impact. It doesn’t try to overstate its case or create a false sense of depth (ie: 90% of Shyamalan’s work). It’s just a weird little collection of underdeveloped ideas.
It’s a world without rules, literally. These creatures or souls or whatever they are live in the dark and each day the sunlight is available less and less, allowing them to reach further towards our small group of survivors led by Hayden Christensen, John Leguizamo, and Thandie Newton. It’s never explained why. That these things can bring a passenger jet down from the sky in broad daylight eludes me, a moment I think is in the film more for the spectacle of it than anything else. It’s never explained why. How these creatures can create fake light to lure victims in (a very underdeveloped idea in the film that annoyed me), playing on their emotions and by using their own memories against them. It’s never explained why. And what worked for colonial Roanoke is a lot harder to pull off in modern Detroit. It’s messy. Incomplete.
On a purely surface level it’s compelling enough. Hayden Christensen does a pretty decent job, considering. It’s interesting to see John Leguizamo playing what has to be the first post-apocalyptic AMC Theaters projectionist. There are some interesting and delightfully low-tech chills and thrills, and there’s never anything on screen that indicates this film is trying to be anything more than a high concept B movie. It’s not like it fails to meet expectations because there are none, aside from expecting more from a filmmaker as interesting as Anderson. But the movie never tries to contribute anything new and when its all said and done it’s a pretty hollow experience. Not unlike an episode of a science fiction show. Looking at his recent work, it’s obvious that episodic storytelling has appealed to Brad Anderson and were Vanishing on 7th Street a piece of a larger whole I might recommend it. But it isn’t and I can’t. It feels like a sample from something substantial but it’s just a sample.
There’s a weird sort of film that has neither the wattage nor ambition to be a fully formed genre idea but have enough merit to exist and be the kind of sleeper film worth recommending. Movies like The Trigger Effect or Miracle Mile. This almost qualifies. Almost.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars