Vanishing On 7th Street Dir. Brad Anderson

[Magnolia; 2011]

Styles: Supernatural Horror
Others: Session 9, The Happening

Would you rather be sucked into an ominous void or be left alone in a room with Hayden Christensen? It’s a dilemma I wouldn’t wish on anyone and the drama at the heart of Vanishing On 7th Street, the latest thriller from director Brad Anderson (Session 9, Transiberian). Christensen plays one of but a handful of survivors wandering the streets of Detroit after a city-wide blackout seemingly takes everyone with it, leaving behind their clothes. Only those who manage to stay near a light source (be it candle, battery powered lamp, or light-up sneaker) are not sucked into the unknown — though Christiansen manages to descend a seemingly unlit emergency staircase early on without harm.

After a few close calls like that one, Christiansen’s baffled local TV anchor wanders his way into a generator-powered dive bar, where a young boy with a shotgun (Jacob Latimore) waits for his waitress mother to come back. Thandie Newton, as a hysterical nurse who can’t find her baby, soon wanders in, and the group later finds an injured, half-coherent John Leguizamo under a bus stop lit by solar power. It becomes increasingly clear that help will not be arriving soon, and that the days are somehow getting shorter. This leaves our fantastic four with little to do but shout at each other about the state of the “genny” and risk narrow escapes from the encroaching darkness as they try to find their way out of this apocalyptic jam.

While the swarming CGI shadows, which shriek as they approach potential prey, might raise pulses among the phobic, the effect lacks the eerie verity of Session 9’s abandoned insane asylum setting, and there’s no clear logic to the menace. If this is really God’s “big reboot,” as Leguizamo’s earnest theater employee believes (he’s like the ghost of The Happening), why does great silhouette maker in the sky bother humoring these glow-stick wavers, who take forever to realize that fire is an easily accessible light source? Maudlin speeches and chatter about “willing yourself to exist” never add up to anything, and the final outcome is as arbitrary as it is inanely metaphorical (warning: a horse is involved). A brief flashback of the bar pre-blackout is the closest thing to a genuinely affecting moment; after trying to make sense of Vanishing for an hour, you’ll miss the world you knew beforehand too.

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