'Vanishing on 7th Street' Turns Into a 'Twilight Zone' Episode

In Vanishing on 7th Street, ordinary individuals confront a fantastical, unnamed force consuming the world into darkness.

Vanishing on 7th Street

Director: Brad Anderson
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo, Jacob Latimore
Rated: R
Studio: Magnet Releasing
Year: 2010
US date: 2011-02-10

Brad Anderson doesn't exactly direct horror movies, but his thrillers, like The Machinist and Transsiberian, bring horrific or disquieting elements into everyday life. Showing skill and patience that recall Hitchcock, they're horror movies for grown-ups. His new film Vanishing on 7th Street takes this idea a step further, introducing a fantastical element -- an unnamed force consuming the world into darkness.

Most of the action is confined to a bar, where a few strangers are holed up, trying to stave off the shadows. But Vanishing isn't quite as one-dimensional as that sounds. The point of view shifts to accommodate individual backstories, beginning with Paul (John Leguizamo), a nerdy projectionist at a movie theater. When the lights go out at work, he's startled to see that everyone else has disappeared as if disintegrated, leaving their clothes in piles and hints of ghostly voices swirling around in the dark. Rosemary (Thandie Newton), a nurse, has survived a similar incident at her hospital. And we spend the following morning with Luke (Hayden Christensen), who wakes up to find his apartment building abandoned and the streets filled with more empty clothes.

So far, so creepy: shadows reach out from gloomy recesses, grasping at humans like invisible tentacles, and the streets, littered with abandoned clothing and cars, provide a starkly eerie sight. The conceptual simplicity of this seeming apocalypse lends the movie a scary bedtime story atmosphere, and Anderson makes good use of Detroit locations, finding the emotional, even metaphysical, nuances in urban decay.

But after a striking introduction, the movie proceeds to overplay its hand, leaning on those bendy-shadow effects. The rhythm of the disappearances barely varies; people try to outrun the darkness, and either they dodge it at the last minute, or it hits them and they disappear. After about 20 minutes, the shadow monsters have become as monotonous as any machete-wielding slasher.

Anderson's better thrillers have a quiet intensity, which Vanishing occasionally summons, but screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski's dialogue interrupts the mood with down-the-middle hokiness. Luke is introduced saying exactly what he thinks about his unnerving situation, and this turns out to be Jaswinski's solution to the story's minimalism: if no one else is around, just have characters deliver exposition by talking to themselves.

Maybe that's the preferable option, though, because when people do come together at the bar, they turn histrionic. The movie seems to think that the fear will be more visceral when punctuated by as many loud outbursts as possible. It doesn't help that Christensen and Newton are both prone to overacting even in better circumstances (Leguizamo is too, but that's part of his crazy charm) and appear more than eager to scream it out here. The three stars, along with young James (Jacob Latimore), turn out to be tedious company for an apocalypse; rather than offering a cross-section of Detroit residents, the movie gives us a handful of leftovers. Luke has regrets over his broken marriage. Rosemary hopes, stupidly, that she might find her baby. Paul, not being white, gets injured early, under confusing circumstances, and spends the back half of the movie sweaty and delusional.

The oversized performances represent a jarring comedown for Anderson, who seems like the perfect director to observe regular people responding to mysterious, terrifying circumstances. The tight character-study focus that so benefited Christian Bale in The Machinist and Emily Mortimer in Transsiberian here feels softened and dumbed down, each portrait quickly reduced from minimal to downright perfunctory.

As Vanishing on 7th Street turns into something like an extended Twilight Zone episode, without the blatant moralizing, it becomes harder for us to keep focused. The fears introduced in the movie's opening dissipate, and the shadows produce dread not over the characters' possible fates, but over the 90-minute running time, which starts to feel endless.






Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.


Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".


Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.


Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.


The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.


Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.


For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?


Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".


Becky Warren Shares "Good Luck" and Discusses Music and Depression (premiere + interview)

Becky Warren finds slivers of humor while addressing depression for the third time in as many solo concept albums, but now the daring artist is turning the focus on herself in a fight against a frightful foe.


Fleet Foxes Take a Trip to the 'Shore'

On Shore, Fleet Foxes consist mostly of founding member Robin Pecknold. Recording with a band in the age of COVID-19 can be difficult. It was just time to make this record this way.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.