Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Hayden Christensen, John Leguizamo, Thandie Newton, Jacob Latimore, Taylor Groothuis, Jordan Trovillion, Arthur Cartwright, Neal Huff
Written by: Anthony Jaswinski
Directed by: Brad Anderson
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 90
Date: 09/12/2010
IMDB

Vanishing on 7th Street (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Darkness at the Edge of Town

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist, Transsiberian) lives in the shadow of the two more famous, more celebrated Andersons, Wes and Paul Thomas, and so it fits that he's very much a "B" movie maker, punchier, and more second-gear than his colleagues. (None of these Andersons, I should mention, are related to me.) Though Brad has worked more and more in television these days, he remains one of my favorite working "B" directors, and perhaps one of the most consistent.

So far the reaction to his new movie, Vanishing on 7th Street, might put that last point up for debate, but I think there's something here to like. One day in Detroit, the darkness begins gobbling up people. More specifically, the lights go out, and when they come back on again, the only thing that remains are piles of crumbled clothes. In a movie theater, the entire audience disappears, but a projectionist, Paul (John Leguizamo), survives due to a little lamp he wears on his head.

A nurse, Rosemary (Thandie Newton), survives because she happened to be lighting a cigarette during an early blackout. And a TV newsman, Luke (Hayden Christensen), survived because he was waiting for a romantic night with his girlfriend, complete with lit candles. After three days sludging through the darkness, looking for answers, batteries, and other supplies, these three meet up at a lonely little bar; the bar has power thanks to a groaning generator in the basement. The bar's single occupant is young James (Jacob Latimore), who still believes his mother is coming back.

Typically in this kind of movie, the characters pass the time by arguing. They're scared and they don't know what's going on, or how long they're going to last. They concoct a foolhardy plan, which involves making a run for the one truck that still seems to have some battery power. Additionally, the names here, Paul, Luke, James and (Rose)Mary, are all Biblical, which suggests some kind of apocalyptic rebirth. Likewise, Rosemary is religious and she occasionally speaks to the significance of all this.

The movie, admittedly, isn't very smart or subtle on these counts. But I liked it for its spooky, moody atmosphere, and the way the darkness pervades the frames (this can't have been an easy movie to light or shoot). I also like how it does not feel the need to explain the invasion, nor does it succumb to the need for "likable" characters or a heroic leader. Only one of the four main characters is white, and he seems to be the most despicable of the four: grouchy, selfish, etc. That, at least, is a step forward for this "survivor" genre.

Probably it would have made a much better "Twilight Zone" episode at one-third of the length, but there's enough good, solid genre work here to make it worthwhile.

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