Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Detroit Story: Vanishing on 7th Street

Having driven out all local industry, perhaps Detroit has finally found its place in the world economy. Evidently, the depressed city is suitably creepy locale to film a horror movie. While the city is disappearing in real life, supernatural forces hasten the process in Brad Anderson’s Vanishing on 7th Street (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

As a film projectionist, Paul is used to working in the dark. An avid reader of the occult and unexplained, he happened to be skimming the story of the lost Roanoke Colony when nearly every living soul in his multiplex disappears. We quickly surmise his miner’s light saved his life. The darkness is rising, consuming any living being not protected by a light source. Somehow, Paul and a handful of survivors make their way to Sonny’s, a local dive with its own generator and a jukebox stocked with some hip soul jazz and old school R&B.

Even if Vanishing did not establish Luke had just left his wife for a shallow TV anchor, we would know he is a morally flexible punk, because he is played by Hayden Christensen. Not exactly an altruist, there is considerable friction between him and James, a sensitive adolescent nervously awaiting a mother who clearly is not coming back. Instinctively drawn to the young boy, Rosemary is a doctor with a host of emotional issues further acerbated by the current crisis. Together, they must keep the darkness at bay, even though, in a bit of a cheat on the film’s part, the laws of nature seem to be bending to the otherworldly force.

While good villains are really essential to genre pictures, Anderson and cinematographer Uta Briesewitz effectively compensate with the malevolent creeping darkness, masterfully setting the eerie mood and tone. Vanishing features a number of smart touches, including the Roanoke references and the appearance of cult horror actor-director Larry Fessenden as an ill fated bike messenger. Wisely, Anderson never reveals too much, maintaining a sense mystery regarding the evil forces at work. However, genre purists will be frustrated by the film’s refusal to play by a consistent set of rules, as well as the rather ridiculous ending.

Perfectly cast as Paul, John Leguizamo nicely conveys both earnest geekiness and desperate fear. Though he has played this part before, Christensen once again makes a convincing jerk. Saddled with a rather melodramatic character whose lack of assertiveness might be problematic to some, Thandie Newton does what she can as Rosemary.

A disciplined, mostly cool excursion into apocalyptic horror, Vanishing smartly works within its constraints. If not another Night of the Comet, it should certainly hold considerable cult appeal when it opens this Friday (2/18) at the Village East.