92 min., 2010
Written by Anthony Jaswinski
Directed by Brad Anderson
My rating: ★★★★
Come on, we all want Hayden Christensen to disappear.
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Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong with your vision. This is a review having nothing to do with The Walking Dead and my name is still attached to it. If you didn’t bother to read above I’m actually reviewing a Brad Anderson film, The Vanishing on Seventh Street. The main lineup of characters here are as follows: Hayden Christensen playing Luke, John Leguizamo as Paul, Thandie Newton playing Rosemary, and a kid Jacob Latimore playing James. The premise of the film seems to be that a widespread event in what looks to be New York blacks out the entire city and only those with a personal light source such as candles, flashlights, and fire seem to remain while the only trace of anyone else is a pile of clothes. The review is going to come kind of close to a full on play by play retelling of the film so like most of my other reviews, this bitch is all full of spoilers. That was your warning, to turn back now or read what I wrote below.
The movie starts out as a fairly normal day in the life of Paul, a projectionist at a local multiplex. He is changing reels and doing some macabre reading about a place called Roanoake. The exchange between him and the girl behind the concession stand portrays the character as shy, introverted, and generally socially awkward so it seems his chosen profession is a good fit. Despite his awkwardness, he seems to be intelligent as indicated by the high level reading materials. These are all things I am inferring, of course, based on the visuals they chose to go with so far.
As the movie goes from something mundane to the seemingly extraordinary, Leguizamo’s level of confusion is believable at leaving his post and seeing everyone has disappeared. The only thing that gets left behind is their clothes which is more reminiscent of the vaporizing scenes from War of the Worlds (the Tom Cruise version.) Anyhow, I don’t think you really catch on to the fact that their lights are the only commonality in potential means of safety that he and a lone security guard don as they peruse the theatre for answers and other survivors. In the least believable moment so far, the lone, surviving, black security guard thinks he sees someone moving in the shadows and goes to investigate. Of course, he disappears moments later; the only trace of him left behind is a flashlight and polyester uniform.
John Leguizamo is a hell of a comedian and honestly he works in serious roles if he is playing a cynic but if he truly needs to show any other range of emotions it seems to be a strain for him or just flat out impossible. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that these emotions are out of his range as an actor; it just seems like his acting experience isn’t a lot more varied than jokes and slap stick comedy.
Anyhow, these moments of normal to bewildering seems to occur everywhere all at once. Our two other survivors, Luke, who wakes up by candlelight from a romantic evening that never had the chance to be and Rosemary, a nurse at an area hospital both seems shocked when they figure out what’s going on but had almost polar opposite reactions to the event. She freaked since there was still a patient in the OR on the table splayed open when the doctors faded out of existence and Luke remained thoroughly oblivious walking past his missing doorman’s uniform and waltzed right into some else’s remains before his WTF moment. At this point in the story, we start to see shadows that, if they are CGI creations, don’t have the feel of that heavy handed computer programming most popular films seem to have adopted. The shadows seem to envelop objects and have lurking forms that appear in a very subtle way in your periphery when you are watching. Seventy-two hours after discovering everyone seeming to have gone bye-bye, the town looks like the staging area for a full out apocalypse. Hayden Christensen’s character has gone into full survivor mode attaching every possible light to himself and scavenging for supplies in an almost completely blacked out city.
Hayden Christensen isn’t a bad actor. I mean he has done a pretty kick ass job in some of his other movies like My Life as a House with Kevin Kline. The sad part is anytime he gets angry or emotional, he turns into an angsty teenager on screen and I can’t think of anything else but an underwhelming Anakin Skywalker. I mean his anger is understandable considering he has been reduced to bouncing around from place to place like a moth to a flame as opposed to the phat-assed apartment we saw him wake up in. His acting range, like Leguizamo’s, seems muted to me. He seems to be able to portray discomfort and indifference but not genuine loathing or rage. The flashes of anger we do see make him look unstable which is out of place for his character being cool and in control because the anger has no build up. He just erupts at random and then goes back to these clipped, passé tones of voice. You have to think that in any other actor this would make his character seem vulnerable or near the breaking point. In his performance, however, it seems more like he’s got Tourette’s or multiple personalities. He does seem a little ruthless when he ignores the pleas of another man locked outside his car while the darkness seemingly sweeps him away. But overall, his performance seems to be showing the character as self-centered and having no real concern for anyone else.
He makes his way to a bar which seems to be a growing trend now in apocalyptic situations (i.e. Shaun of the Dead.) In either case, this seems to be the only place that hasn’t been coated in darkness. Inside he meets James at the business end of a shotgun. This eleven year old kid is only in this bar and feeding its backup generator because of his mother who went to the church around the corner and has yet to return. If not for the bland dialogue they give to the kid to make him seem a bit more “ethnic,” the performance would have been pretty solid. For him to have previously only been in a few commercials and for this to be his breakout role, he does a damn fine job. Honestly, between him and Thandie Newton’s portrayal of Rosemary, they seem to be the most compelling performances in the whole film.
She enters the bar half crazed and begging for her baby. At some point, she picks up a discarded gun and in a moment of psychotic grief, she takes an unsuccessful shot at Luke. After this, she falls to the floor wailing in the fetal position. Once they get her calm, she starts recalling in her mind the night of the incident. This is actually one case where smoking saved a life because had it not been for her lighting up that cigarette when she did, she would have vanished like everyone else.
The last one to arrive at the bar, of course, is Paul. If not for him wailing under the light of a solar powered bus shelter, he may also have been blowing in the wind. Rosemary and James, of course, hear his cries and even though Luke wants to leave him, when those two volunteer to save him Luke has to man up. The shadows in this sequence have definitive shapes like the outlines of people. Some of the shadows are reaching out like crooked fingers while other shadows seem to have taken on attributes more common to liquid and are dripping all over the buildings and abandoned cars in the streets
They make it to the bar but just barely and Paul starts running down the scientific reasons for how something like this could happen including black holes and gamma radiation. He also tells them about where he went during the three days since all this started. He was apparently being held by the shadow creatures somewhere dark once his light failed, but once it came back he seemed to be set free. Rosemary starts breaking out her reasoning after Paul’s tale and citing the rapture or at least divine punishment. Luke rejects this and is less concerned about why than he is about how to survive it. From this point on it honestly just becomes a race against the clock to stay in the light for a long as the generator will hold out. They talk and get to know one another in the interim, start seeing things that drudge up their personal demons, and try to band together in spite of themselves. Since I do want you guys to see the film as I did actually enjoy it, I am not going to give away the ending. There are however two other things that may offer some explanation as to how or why things have gotten as cluster fucked at they are.
At some point Paul starts talking about the incident on an island off the Carolina’s called Roanoake. It seems that the first English colony was established way back in 1587. The supply ship came to restock only to find all 117 men, women, and children had completely vanished without a trace. The only clue left behind was a single word scraped into a fence post, Croatoan (which of course no one knows its meaning.) After Paul mentions all this and his health fails more so, it become pretty clear to Luke they need to get supplies and take some energy from the generator to jumpstart the truck he saw earlier. They leave Paul with James while Rosemary and Luke try to push a truck which is several blocks away. During this excursion their lights fail and they create a makeshift torch. The torch still needs fuel so they end up looking for rubbing alcohol at a medical facility where Rosemary is lured out into the night by her baby’s cries. This is yet another trick of the darkness which she realized too late and got herself poofed. After a very nice hallucination, Paul gets himself poofed as well. With only James and Luke left, they jump the car, leave the bar, and find themselves in front of the church James’ mother disappeared to. From here there are a few interesting twists and turns and at some point you do see the word “ Croatoan” lending credence to the Roanoake theory. Overall, I have to say this was pretty good acting, beautiful building of suspense, excellent photography, and it honestly is the best shadow work I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. In hindsight, I will say that John Leguizamo did sell me on his character but the imitation Oscar for best female performance has to go to Thandie Newton. This was a blast to review. Hopefully you guys will view it if only for the ending. So, I’ll catch you guys next review, but until then may all your films bring fright.Have You Read...?