Credit the low-budget Vanishing on 7th Street for conjuring up an apocalyptic concept that is, if nothing else, original. Rather than flesh-eating bacteria, nuclear bombs, nanotechnology-run-amok or inexplicable sterility, the baddies are (wait for it) shadows. The earth, evidently, is done with humans. Its method of annihilation: Turning out the lights, thereby (apparently) causing people to vaporize, leaving behind cities filled with bodyless clothes. Only those lit by independent light sources (flashlights, glow-necklaces, torches) survive; one of the many loopholes screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski employs to make sure there’s a movie at all.
Lucky to be alive is the film’s theater-sized cast: Hayden Christensen as a cynical reporter, Thandie Newton as a hysterical and now-babyless mother, wounded projectionist John Leguizamo and Jacob Latimore as a 12 year old with a shotgun. The quartet hole up in a dive bar that, handily, represents Detroit’s last vestiges of electricity. There, they act out an inconsistently cast, junior-high version of No Exit.
So, why the decimation? No explanation, neither literal nor figurative. From the action and the relationships onscreen, we witness no insight into the human race that would merit annihilation, or thought of any kind. Vanishing on 7th Street would be a pessimistic film had it some perspective on humanity, its relationship to the planet, anything. Instead it appears to be the first apocalyptic wet dream without an axe to grind. Like director Brad Anderson’s The Machinist, it’s a movie made not through passion but through a need to belong to the cool clique. The Machinist was a splotchy, nth-generation dub of Fight Club, and Vanishing exists solely because movies depicting the end of man inevitably develop cults.
As always, Anderson compensates for weak material through overdirection. There are plenty of handsome ’scope frames, but the special effects always look digital when natural would have been far spookier, or at least less giggle-worthy. The Romeroesque trick of suggesting a world peppered with survivors would be more effective if half the cast wasn’t actively awful. Perhaps the planet is simply ridding itself of lousy thespians. If so, maybe there is a case for end times.
2014 Films: The Year’s Most Likely