Scaring people is easy with film. Present reanimated, flesh-eating corpses or a maniac wielding a chainsaw and audiences will be cringing in their seats. While gaudiness is certainly effective for cheap scares, Vanishing on 7th Street takes the opposite approach and uses subtlety and intimation to truly disturb viewers. While the presentation can be inconsistent at times and the story doesn’t wrap up as neatly as many viewers would like, moviegoers looking to be filled with disquiet on an intrinsic level will definitely find it here.
A mysterious blackout strikes a city and almost the entire population literally disappears in an instant, leaving only piles of clothes where they once stood. The only people spared from this fate are those who were fortunate enough to have some kind of personal light source – a lighter, a headlamp, candles, etc. These lucky survivors (Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo and Jacob Latimore) come from all walks of life and meet at the one place that seems to shrug off the oppressive dark – a bar powered by a gasoline generator. With the sun rising later and setting earlier and with whispering shadows surrounding them, the survivors must hatch a plan to escape before the generator fails or become part of the darkness.
Primal fear exists in many forms. There’s fear of death, fear of the unknown, isolation, helplessness, hopelessness and more. Vanishing capitalizes on all of these fears exceedingly well and only occasionally falls back on gimmicks to get a scare out of the audience. The first act of the film is probably the most disturbing as anyone who has had to stay late at the office by themselves would agree. The dread of being in a place where life normally is, but where no life can be found is horrific in ways that everyone tries to ignore. That fear is made worse here because of how inexplicable the occurrence is. Once the survivors understand what they’re dealing with, the horror morphs into something more conventional with creepy shadows stretching across walls, whispering names and sometimes uncharacteristically screaming. Nevertheless, the shadows are a very unique monster and will certainly have arm hairs standing on end.
While Vanishing adheres to many traditional horror movie tropes, one convention it eschews is having frustrating characters. In most survival films the characters fall into very specific archetypes, like the irritating pessimistic person who lives for far too long and brings great relief to the audience when he or she dies a horrific death. In Vanishing the characters all feel very natural and seem to organically join forces, because it’s the wise play. The characters also feel fully developed with engaging backstories to give them another dimension to their survivor roles. While interesting, the characters’ stories don’t seem particularly relevant to the plot and yet the film spends a lot of time developing those backgrounds. Given the immediacy of the danger, spending time getting to know everyone seems a bit extraneous.
Vanishing’s greatest asset is its inscrutable explanation for the phenomenon the characters find themselves in. The situation is scary, intriguing and unique. Unfortunately, this mysteriousness could also be the film’s greatest drawback. It’s human nature to seek an explanation for the inexplicable and create order out of chaos. While some guesses are made in the film, including a comparison to the mystery of Roanoke, which was an English colony that mysteriously disappeared in the 16th century, those explanations still leave other questions unanswered. This storytelling choice may disappoint many, but at least the conversation on the way home from the theater will be spirited as viewers try to make sense of it all.
Vanishing on 7th Street is an exciting and fresh take on the horror genre. It’s chilling on a very intimate level that every viewer will instantly understand and share. While some pacing issues and loose ends mitigate the enjoyment of the film a little, those quibbles shouldn’t be enough to keep audiences from watching this otherwise excellently crafted film.