Sunday, November 20, 2011

Can You Tell Me How to Vanish On Boring Street?

You know when you REALLY want a movie to be great? The director excites you, the premise is up your alley, and the fact that it’s streaming on Netflix just seems like kismet. At a certain point, it’s like the film has to work to NOT be exactly what you want.
Vanishing on 7th Street works awfully hard.
Quick Plot: It’s a typical day in Detroit when the city pulls a Left Behind style blackout that leaves nothing but a lot of clothing and a few stray survivors hanging out in darkness, where only the beam of flashlights will stave off a herd of shadowy figures. Among the living are Paul (John Lequizamo), a film projectionist with a history hobby, Rosemary (Thandie Newton), a physical therapist looking for her baby (and probably named Rosemary for the sole reason of letting reviewers write “Rosemary’s baby”), James (Jacob Latimore), a 12-year-old waiting for his bartender mom, and the offensively named Luke (Hayden “I Hate Sand” Christensen), a field reporter.

The motley crew holds up in a local tavern called Sonny’s (ha ha) fully lit by a backup generator. As the lights begin to dim and their power supply starts to die, Luke convinces the rest to make a break for it by jump starting a nearby truck. 

Jump starting nearby trucks is so very easy on camera.
To go further into the plot might lead to spoilage, except--

There’s nothing to spoil because we never ACTUALLY find out anything about anything...anything...about...anything.
Why did most humans vanish? Why weren’t French poodles and squirrels taken? Is there somewhere these things GO? Why DID that Chevy still run, and was it JUST because it was a Chevy? Why was Paul taken into the ether and spit back a few days later? How in The Happening does THAT make sense? Is it aliens? God? Demons? Pulse-ish shadows from another dimension? Hot dogs? Betty Buckley?

Sigh. Not every film needs to give us every answer. Is The Shining about ghosts, alcoholism, or Native American genocide? It doesn’t matter if the film is good enough to justify the lack of answers.

Vanishing on 7th Street, however, is not. Anderson creates some excellent spookiness right from the outset, including one of the most effective jump scares I’ve seen in some time within its first ten minutes. The mystery is haunting enough to keep us on edge, but when NOTHING stands behind it, how can an audience possibly be expected to stay on board? Anthony Jaswinski’s script gives us dull squabbling and zero answers, and even though some of the performances do what they can to sell it--okay, really just Lequizamo and the young Latimore, as Newton comes off shrill and Anakin is still Anakin--the movie ultimately feels like a stretched out short story that never had a good ending to begin with.

High Points
It’s probably impossible for a lifelong Star Wars fan to ever get behind Hayden Christensen again, but young actor Jacob Latimore brings a fantastic presence to his role as James. If only he had played Anakin Skywalker...

Fellow history nerds rejoice! Anybody else always intrigued by the mystery of the Roanoke settlement’s disappearance? Let’s see a better film about that

Low Points
Considering Brad Anderson’s past work, I was weirdly disappointed with some of the overbearing soundtrack work in Vanishing on 7th Street. While the jukebox choices had a hauntingly retro feel, some of the scoring was just too much and broke the eerie subtlety of the film’s major mysteries
We learn quite early on that once you’re covered in darkness, you’ll be swooped away (even though WE NEVER KNOW WHERE TO). So how frustrating is it that at a key moment, two of our main characters are being closed in upon by the shadows only, escape and keep freaking out. Way to break the rules and therefore lessen the tension of anything that comes after

Lessons Learned
Never underestimate the importance of glow sticks. Never.

Jukeboxes use an awful lot of power
Try to avoid going to the theaters to see Adam Sandler movies because really, is THAT where you want to be during the rapture?

I’m trying to avoid using the word ‘frustrating’ anymore in this review. It’s not particularly a google keyword I’m looking to catch, but holy Kirk Cameron can I not think of a better adjective to describe Vanishing on 7th Street. The potential is there, and yet the insane coyness of the script seems to dare its audience to give up. At the same time, Brad Anderson continues to show plenty of strength when it comes to building tension, and hey, some of us just love a good rapture. I’m being quite negative on the film because GRRRRR does it make me say GRRRRR, but the premise itself might still be enough to at least give it an Instant Watch try if you like these kinds of things. Just prepare to be ...

(Pause to check thesaurus)
Stymied! Yeah, that’s it...


  1. Imagine my frustration--I like Brad Anderson and the Twilight Zone concept, so I paid to watch this month's ago when it was streaming on Zune...ugh. What a waste...

  2. I wouldn't mind being shadowed out of existence so much during an Adam Sandler movie if it was Reign Over Me, that one was good, with Sandler doing some great dramatic acting!'s just a shame that he's learnt nothing and just made jack and jill!

    And as for the Roanoke settlement, I've never understood why that's such a big mystery, seeing as how obvious and un-mystery-ish it really is!

  3. Oooh Kangas, I would definitely have been angry if I'd given this one money. I remember when the mainstream reviews started hitting last year and then blog posts followed, I was so shocked and disbelieving of all the negativity. It's Brad Anderson! And a rapture! How can it not work? Oh that's easy. It just tries really hard to piss you off. That makes it not work.

    Chris: I don't know that there's any *official* consensus on the Roanoke colony. And even there is, isn't it more fun to have the idea that we don't know? I want to believe! (in raptures).

    And regarding Sandler, considering Jack & Jill is on its way to tanking, maybe he'll learn. May. Be.

  4. I turned this one off shortly after he reached the bar and met up with the kid..
    this film could have used some hats...

  5. Yes! More claw headed bunny caps all around!

  6. This film is so incredibly boring. And Hayden should not be able to find work in film. Ever. Grrrr indeed.

  7. I walked out after I mistakenly went to see this film in a theater and demanded my money back from the manager. Two other people did as well. While the manager was sympathetic, none of us got our $10 back, but we each got a rain check so we could go back and see a good movie later.

    I still marvel at how producers and studios mismanage potentially great premises with either moronic directors, poor scripts, or both. (Anderson, though, is quite good. It's the script that boggles the imagination.) And how they keep casting Anakin. Brandon Routh is a dynamic, energetic colossus of acting compared to Hayden Whatshisface.


  8. Wow, the complainging about the movie trick actually works? I'm SHOCKED!But still too wimpy to do anything about it. Heck, when I saw the first Paranormal Activity, the screen was blank for the first 5 minutes until I finally realized that wasn't supposed to happen, complained and was directed to the next screening. Not even a popcorn voucher, just a 20 minute delay!

    And agreed that it's the script at fault here. Anderson isn't entirely blameless, but I think he creates some strong tension (though not with any real driving force). The story just isn't good enough to justify NOT giving us anything, and I Hate Sand should move to an island with Jessica Alba and spend the rest of his and her life making bland movies that I don't ever have to see. That's what you get for making Brandon Routh look interesting!