Friday, May 13, 2011

DVD Review: Vanishing on 7th Street [DVD + Digital Copy]

[DVD + Digital Copy]
Release Date: May 17th 2011

LABEL: Magnolia Pictures
DURATION: 91mins
VIDEO: 16:9 2.35:1 Widescreen
AUDIO: English 5.1 Dolby Digital EX with English subtitles
DIRECTOR: Brad Anderson
CAST: Hayden Christensen, Thande Newton, John Leguzamo, Jacob Latmore
TAGLINE: Fear Lives in the Dark

SYNOPSIS: From director Brad Anderson (Session 9, Transsiberian, The Machinist) comes VANISHING ON 7TH STREET, a terrifying, apocalyptic thriller that taps into one of humankind’s most primal anxieties: fear of the dark. An unexplained blackout plunges the city of Detroit into total darkness, and by the time the sun rises, only a few people remain—surrounded by heaps of empty clothing, abandoned cars and lengthening shadows. A small handful of strangers that have survived the night (Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo and newcomer Jacob Latimore) each find their way to a rundown bar, whose gasoline-powered generator and stockpile of food and drink make it the last refuge in a deserted city. With daylight beginning to disappear completely and whispering shadows surrounding the survivors, they soon discover that the enemy is the darkness itself, and only the few remaining light sources can keep them safe. As time begins to run out for them, darkness closes in and they must face the ultimate terror.

FILM: Director Brad Anderson popped-up on my cinematic radar following the release of the intensely eerie 'Session 9' (2001) a film that remains one of the best of the early 2000's despite starring David Caruso who just irks me. He then went onto the first-rate psychological-thriller 'The Machinist' (2004) and the tense 'Transiberian' (2008) which chronicles an American couple's Trans-Siberian train trip which finds them caught up in a heroin smuggling operation. It's a darkly Hitchcockian premise as unassuming normies get caught-up in something extraordinary. Anderson's also directed several TV shows including several episodes of  'Fringe'  and an episode each of 'Masters of Horror' and 'Fear Itself'. I've thoroughly enjoyed his film and television work thus far so how does the supernatural 'Vanishing on 7th Street' (2010) total up?

'Vanishing on 7th Street' follows the events after a mysterious worldwide blackout, it's acutely focused on a handful of people in Detroit.  We open on theatre projectionist Paul (John Leguizamo) as he sits in a darkened projection booth reading about Roanoke, an English settlement found mysteriously abandoned in 1587. Suddenly the power goes out and he enters the theatre lobby to find it empty. Only moments before hundred of theatre goers crowded the theatres now Paul is unsettled to discover only their clothing remains as if their bodies had simply evaporated from within leaving behind a rumpled pile of laundry. We then meet Luke (Hayden Christensen) a TV news anchor who awakens only to sleepwalk through his morning rituals with little notice that the world has gone to shit. Sure, he notices that the power is out but little else till until he stumbles out onto the streets where it's pretty obvious that something apocalyptic has occurred. The streets are littered with clothing and wrecked automobiles. As he struggles to come to terms with what he's seeing a commercial airliner plunge nose first into the ground several blocks away erupting into a massive fireball. It's a scene that brought to mind 9/11 right away in my mind, whether that's intentional or not I couldn't say.

Three days have passed and we find Luke searching the darkened streets for sources of illumination. While he sits inside an abandoned car sifting through it's contents a stranger runs up to the him  pleading for a source of light only to be swallowed by shadows that seem to have a life of their own seconds later. That's what we're up against her folks, the shadows are consuming people similarly to what we saw in that 'X-Files' episode 'Soft Light'. Also, it seems the days are growing  shorter and shorter leading us to believe that eventually the sun will disappear altogether leaving nowhere to hide from the shadows. The only protection against the shadows is to have a light source in hand at all times.

Luke discovers a well-lit neighborhood bar, it's the only source of light we've seen thus far and is powered by a gas generator. There he meets a boy named James (Jacob Latimore. Once James takes the shotgun outta his face they strike up a friendship. Soon after they are joined by Rosemary (Thandie Newton) a distraught woman searching for her lost infant and the projectionist winds up at the bar with a head injury. The four end up sharing their stories, fears and theories which range from an End of Days scenario to the Roanoke connection. It's an uneasy alliance as our group debate what's the next best course of action while they wait out the remaining fuel in the generator and fend off the siege of deadly shadows.

The cast of 'Vanishing on 7th Street' is a nice ensemble piece. Much like Caruso in 'Session 9' I was wary of Hayden Christensen's participation but was pleasantly surprised here. Newton as a distraught mother was thoroughly convincing though you question her decisions at times, but mothers are prone to rash decisions when their children are involved so whattya gonna do? Leguizamo is an actor I've long enjoyed though I feel he's not given enough good material to work with it's no exception here, the dialogue is pretty clunky at time but it's a solid performance. Relative newcomer Jacob Latimore as James definitely held his own alongside the more experienced actors. No complaints in the acting department whatsoever 

The film's eerie shots of the desolate and darkened city were quite chilling though the film is definitely more claustrophobic in nature and Anderson chooses to focus on the 7th Street neighborhood given the film likely limited budget. The shadowy effects are a mixed-bag which at times take on a life of their own with tendril-like fingers reaching out of the darkness. The most startling  effect were the disembodied shadows we glimpse in snatches of light. Figures that have no physical body but seem to cast living shadows, it reminded me what we saw with Coppola's 'Dracula' (1992) only less fantastical and more menacing. The shadowplay worked quite well until the digital authoring became too readily apparent at times and took me out of the moment.

The film's apocalyptic elements brought to mind 'The Last Man on Earth' (1964) with dreadful shadows in lieu of vampires mixed with the siege elements of 'Assault on Precinct 13' (1976) and the unearthly feel of the j-horror film 'Pulse' (2001) but the film was too elusive for me to fully enjoy. The mystery just felt distant and unsatisfying. Anderson's previous films were well-crafted and tense and this just felt like a hastily assembled fright film.
DVD: 'Vanishing on 7th Street' looks quite good with it's anamorphic scope aspect ratio. The colors are vibrant and accurately represented though the film is decidedly dark for the most part. The details are crisp and black levels are consistently deep and inky throughout. The 5.1 surround is well utilized and the surrounds get some creepy sound design that enhances the viewing experience. There's also a nice selection of bonus content including an audio commentary, alternate endings that really weren't all that alternate and some cast and crew interviews plus a digital copy of the film.

- Alternate Ending
- Creating the Mood on 7th Street
- Revealing the Vanishing on 7th Street
- Behind the Scenes Montage
- Fangoria Interview with Director Brad Anderson and Jabob Latmore
- HDNet: A Look at Vanishing on 7th Street
- Commentary with Director Brad Anderson
- Digital Copy

VERDICT: 'Vanishing on 7th Street' had potential to be a much creepier tale playing on our collective fear of the dark but the film is too elusive for it's own good. It's going for a subtle and mysterious but felt vague and unsatisfying like a story left untold. Honestly, this is a bit of a disappointment for me but I give it a medium recommend that's worth a video-on-demand rental. While it has its faults I must say that it did have me jumping at shadows while navigating my darkened house by the light of my ipod in much the same way as 'Paranormal Activity'.  3.5 outta 5