Sunday, 26 February 2012

DVD Review: Vanishing on 7th Street

Stay in the light...

Panic in Detroit when a massive power cut plunges the city into total darkness and when the sun rises all that remains is a handful of survivors, loads of piles of empty clothing - the bodies within having disappeared - abandoned traffic and mysterious malevolent shadows which creep out of the darkness to engulf the remaining light.

We all love a good apocalypse movie. Some of us even like the bad ones (I appear to be one of the few people in the civilised world who can manage a good word or two for this year's The Darkest Hour) but sometimes the genre throws out a film which isn’t especially bad nor especially outstanding. Vanishing on 7th Street is just there, a variation on a theme directed by Brad (The Machinist) Anderson who, to his credit, is more interested in mood, atmosphere and generating an air of creeping terror based on just about everyone’s underlying fear of the dark than wowing the crowd with glitzy visuals and ooh-ahh FX money shots. But as a result Vanishing on 7th Street commits the cardinal sin of being really, really dull and, fatally for a low budget would-be psychological drama about people dealing with extreme crisis, populated by entirely uninteresting and unidentifiable stock characters.

Star Wars favourite (I’m joking) Hayden Christensen plays young news reporter Luke who wakes to find that the world has changed overnight and eventually he gravitates towards fellow survivors Paul (Leguizamo), a theatre projectionist, Rosemary (Newton), a physical therapist and a young lad called James (Latimore) who has holed up in his father’s bar which has its own generator. Not surprisingly given the situation they find themselves in they’re a pretty dour and humourless bunch but they try to work together to find a way out of the city in the hope of finding a refuge they believe exists in Chicago, quickly realising that the creeping darkness is their enemy and that, with their various light supplies fading, it’s really only a matter of time before they’re plunged into an eternal darkness and they cease to exist.

The movie‘s low ($10 million) budget has forced both director and writer to be especially creative in their realisation of this unexplained, presumably global catastrophe and there are some good ideas thrown into the mix here and there. The encroaching shadows may evoke memories of a 2008 Doctor Who story but Vanishing takes it a little further by suggesting that the darkness has a sentience as well as a shape (it’s occasionally glimpsed as shadowy featureless figures lurking in the background or else grasping arms creeping into the light), manipulating the emotions of its victims to lure them out of their protective arcs of light. It’s also refreshing that none of our featured survivors are superheroes or macho men who survive against all the odds - no-one’s safe here - and the film works best when it poses questions it has no intention of answering.

Then problem is that, unsurprisingly perhaps, Vanishing is such a dark and gloomy film. Naturally, much of the action takes place in the half-light or in some darkened, ill-lit room; it’s all terribly atmospheric but it makes the film difficult for the viewer to immerse himself in because the picture is so dark and underlit it’s really hard to tell what’s going on most of the time. Lucas Vidal’s score tries to work the tension of the scenes where the survivors are racing to avoid the darkness but when all we can see are smudges moving about in the gloom holding a torch in front of their faces it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm much less give a damn.

Anderson’s done his best here and his direction is never less than inventive and whilst some might find it refreshing to see a movie apocalypse not dominated by outlandish stunts and extreme special effects, Vanishing stumbles too far in the other direction and offers little to hold the interest beyond the ingenuity of its scenario and one or two of its often-underdeveloped ideas.

Vanishing on 7th Street is available now on DVD in the UK