Hayden Christensen in Brad Anderson's Vanishing on 7th StreetIn the late 1500s, all the inhabitants of Roanoke, one of the first American colonies, disappeared without explanation. The only clue found by the new arrivals was a word carved into a tree: Croatoan. Many theories have been put forward, including a rage-inducing virus in an episode of the television series Supernatural, but the disappearance remains a mystery. The same word is found in the film Vanishing on 7th Street and even though the direct cause is shown, the reason behind the occurrence remains a mystery.

It started with a power outage. Now, where people once stood, are piles of empty clothes. Each passing day contains fewer daylight hours and only those who cling to some other form of light can escape the encroaching darkness. A small group of survivors gather in an old bar powered by a gas generator. Luke (Hayden Christensen) is a slick TV anchor; Paul (John Leguizamo) is a lonely projectionist working in a multiplex theatre; Rosemary (Thandie Newton) is a distraught mother whose baby is missing; and James (Jacob Latimore) is a shotgun-toting kid waiting for his mother to return. With their light sources slowly dying, they have to find alternatives and a way out of the city. Overcome with paranoia and fear, the group struggles to understand the events that have brought them together.

The opening act is the most intense part of the film. As characters wander, confused and nearly helpless in the ever-lasting darkness, we are experiencing the same bewilderment. However, the ensemble parts of the film are plagued by bad dialogue and a lack of common sense in most situations. Beyond the usual investigating a noise alone foolishness, it takes forever for them to realize that running unnecessary electrics may be putting a strain on the generator – which also happens to be their main source of survival.

“[Their] impending doom is not a literal figure,” says writer/director Brad Anderson. “The darkness is the monster.”  Unfortunately, many of the scenes of the darkness closing in are kind of cheesy; on the other hand, the ominous shadowy profile that fills entire walls is menacing. Also, the unexpected shadows that stalk and call the survivors are eerie. As the narrative progresses, the darkness becomes more aggressive in its attempts to lure and capture the remaining survivors. As they realize their fate, they repeat the phrase “I exist,” adding an existential element to the plot. There’s also discussion about imprisoned souls and their fate.

The actors are well casted in their individual roles. Christensen’s Luke is superficial and manipulative, even in this dire situation. When he does seem to be acting sincere, it appears to be an unnatural state for him. Leguizamo has mastered the ability to portray a slightly scattered, self-deprecating man. Newton viewed her role as “a study of madness,” as she hysterically searches for her baby and slowly loses hope. Latimore spends most of his time looking frightened.

Anderson’s previous films include Session 9 and The Machinist. Here, he continues his exploration of disjointed emotional states, but the key difference this time is the presence of a tangible monster in the film. “Their emotional states are reflected in the darkness,” says Anderson. Sadly, the level of disturbing achieved is much higher in his two previous pictures.

The movie is intriguing, but there are significant pieces missing to make it a really good thriller.

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