Fear of the dark. It’s the first real sense of fear experienced by humans. From the small child who demands a night light be left on at bedtime to the adult who cannot watch a scary movie with the lights off, something about being in the dark sends shivers down the spine. Vanishing of 7th Street taps into that collective fear and does it well. Opening this Friday at the Ritz at the Bourse, Vanishing on 7th Street is the first bona fide theatrical treat for Philadelphia horror fans this year.
Vanishing on 7th Street doesn’t waste any time getting right to the scary point. During an average night in Detroit, Paul (John Leguizamo), a lonely projectionist, is killing time between reel changes by reading a book on the lost colony of Roanoke. His reading is disrupted by a power blackout. Paul doesn’t get left in pitch dark thanks to the battery-powered light he wears around his head. When back-up power kicks in, Paul discovers that the entire theater and the connected mall are empty. The audience and shoppers are gone, but their clothes and possessions remain.
Paul isn’t the only one finding his environment devoid of fellow inhabitants. Rosemary (Thandie Newton) returns from her cigarette break to find the hospital she works at completely empty except for the occupant of an operating room (the image and predicament of that occupant will stay with the viewer long after the credits roll). Luke (Hayden Christensen), a field reporter for a local TV station, awakes next to some nearly burned-out candles to find his ritzy, high-rise apartment building void of its wealthy clientele. Three days later, Paul, Rosemary and Luke find themselves holed up in the only place with power in Detroit: a local bar running on a creaky old generator maintained by James (Jacob Latimore) a 12 old boy waiting for his waitress mother to return. Quickly these four strangers realize that something in the dark is out to get them and the only thing keeping them alive are the scarce light sources they scrounged up. And those sources are quickly fading.
Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Session 9, Transsiberian) and screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski have created the creepy Twilight Zone-esque apocalyptic character piece that M. Night Shyamalan failed to deliver with The Happening. Jaswinki’s script provides fully-fleshed characters placed in a scenario that draws from a collective fear. Anderson knows how to build suspense, keep the pace rolling and lay on a creepy sense of seat-squirming tension. Their combined efforts would make Rod Serling, Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont smile.
The cast creates characters that a rise above the usual survivor story cliches. This is surprising considering that three of the leads have spotty track records. If you only know Christensen from his one-note performances in two of the Star Wars prequels, prepare to be shocked. Building on the promise he showed in Shattered Glass, Christensen’s Luke is a flawed, not-always-likable, reluctant leader. Newton adds another strong performance to a resume filled with highs (W) and lows (Norbit). And Leguizamo shines in the tricky roll of Paul. Leguizamo brings equal parts loneliness, paranoia and quiet heroism to a character who remains incapacitated throughout most of the film. It’s a performance that apologizes for dreck like the Assault on Precinct 13 remake and the aforementioned The Happening. Making his big screen debut, Latimore brings depth to a role that, in lesser hands, could have easily morphed into a whiny, annoying character that audiences can’t wait to see buy the farm. Instead, the audience cheers for this kid to make it.
Unfortunately, Philadelphia horror fans only have one week to check out this wonderful little film. The Ritz at the Bourse will only be showing Vanishing on 7th Street from Friday, February 25th to Thursday, March 3rd. That’s very sad news when you consider garbage such as The Roommate and The Rite are still stinking up multiplexes across the Philadelphia area. If you enjoy character-and plot-driven horror, go see Vanishing on 7th Street before it quickly disappears.
One Week Only!
Vanishing on 7th Street
Ritz at the Bourse
check Landmark Theatres for showtimes