Magnolia Pictures // 2010 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // June 3rd, 2011
Stay in the light.
When a blackout hits Detroit and virtually all of the city's population disappears, only four survivors are left to unravel the mystery, the resolution of which must reside in the expanded book universe or something.
The Motor City is vacant. No, it's not the plummeting economy that has driven residents away but an unknown supernatural force, disintegrating the victims when darkness hits them. Enter our survivors: Luke, the jumpy TV anchor (Hayden Christensen, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace), Rosemary the desperate mom (Thandie Newton, Crash), Paul the weirdo projectionist (John Leguizamo, Spawn) and James, the orphaned kid (Jacob Latimore). As the mysterious shadow attack closes in, the quartet takes refuge in a bar, with dying light and no idea why they're in the position they're in and what they can possibly do to survive.
And if you, like them, would like answers, dream on. You're not going to get them. Director Brad Anderson is less interested in supplying resolutions to the enigmas he's created and more into building a tense atmosphere that supplies tension because, well, it's a tense atmosphere.
Now, while I prefer my 90 minute viewing investments imbued with at least some semblance of closure I'm okay with a mystery film that keeps some balls in the air. But you have to give me something here, and Vanishing on 7th Street keeps way too many of its cards pressed to its chest and the result is a big fat bowl of No Answers and the nagging question in the back of my mind: what was the point of that last hour and a half?
A shame too, because Anderson knows how to build a creepy atmosphere. He gets right into it, kicking things off with a brief introductory moment, pre-Apocalypse, and just a few moments later the crazy goes down. The lights go out and Detroit is cleansed of people, with just their empty clothes remaining. Not a bad hook, and the creepy factor rises significantly as our heroes weave their way through a barren, post-Apocalyptic urban wasteland. Adding to the dread is the pulsating darkness that slithers towards any light, as if it were a living infection.
Which is the best I can do to describe it because, frustratingly, we're not given anything with regards to the shadow's ontology or purpose. There's a blackout, people vanish in wisps of CGI, this black shadow stuff moves all over the place and light is the only thing that keeps it at bay. Beyond that, no additional information is given. I don't even know why the survivors survive.
So what are we left with? An intimate story of four different people trapped in a bar for 75 minutes before venturing outside and finding -- surprise! -- no more answers. With the mystery such a central aspect of the film, it's just too hard to let the complete lack of any serviceable attempt at answers go by. The Lost finale seems like an Encyclopedia Brown book in comparison.
Perhaps if the characters were more compelling, it would lessen the sting of the fat question marks, but they're nothing special. They have some small bits of uninteresting backstory revealed through flashbacks and they shout at each other a lot when things get tense. Sorry. Not enough to compensate for my bitter dissatisfaction.
This being a Magnet release, it's high-end. The 2.35:1, 1080p transfer is a visual treat, a highly-detailed experiment that actually flourishes in the face of overwhelming dark sequences. Joining the impressive picture quality is the rarest of treats: an actual 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, clean, loud and well-mapped to the surrounds to provide perfect ambience and punch when needed. Extras: commentary from Anderson, two making-of featurettes, a behind-the-scenes montage, a couple of alternate endings that aren't terribly different from the original, interviews with Anderson and Latimore and an HDNet featurette.
Not as illuminating as it should have been.
Guilty. Oh, and Alan Wake called, he wants his plot back.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Endings
* Digital Copy