Director: Brad Anderson
Writers: Anthony Jaswinski
Cinematographer: Uta Briesewitz
Starring: Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo
Studio/Runtime: Magnolia Pictures/91 min.
Of all the apocalypses people worry about, the shadow-puppet apocalypse has got to be somewhere near the end of the list—somewhere below the entire world being devoured by giant squirrels and above the world’s corn supply suddenly exploding and destroying us all. But despite the unabashed silliness of this villain, that’s the premise of Vanishing on 7th Street, where everyone who doesn’t have a light instantly dies, taken away to another dimension or something by the shadows on the wall. Worse yet, the shadow puppets have somehow destroyed the electrical force (we’ll ignore the important role electricity plays in our nervous system), meaning that all the lights in the world are slowly going out. Just a handful of survivors remain, everyone else has been zapped by the shadow puppets and only Hayden Christensen and his intrepid band of random people he runs into can fight them off.
As stupid as that premise may be—and it is mighty stupid—good horror movies have been made from less. Shadows are an essentially frightening thing that have long been a staple of the genre; a similar device was used in Pitch Black to great effect. But that would take characters worth caring about, something Vanishing on 7th Street forgot to include. Hayden Christensen is as affectless here as he has been in everything else, and the film’s supporting characters are just as lacking in personality. They each have about three minutes worth of backstory in the entire film, which is nowhere near enough time to make them memorable. They’re just figurants to be jerked around by the shadow puppets, not people in a difficult situation. Rarely have characters in any movie been so one-dimensional.
Worse yet is the way the shadow puppets go about their aggression. Since they’re essentially magical, there are no rules as to what they can and can’t do. Lights flicker and electricity works intermittently with no rhyme or reason. What the shadow puppets’ powers are or aren’t is determined at random, and characters die not because of the choices they make but rather because the screenwriters need them to at that moment. This takes all tension out of a horror movie, since you aren’t watching for characters to make a mistake; you’re just waiting for someone in a committee to decide it’s an apt moment for them to perish. After merely 10 minutes, it feels like no one knows what to do with the movie’s premise, so characters are put through formulaic horror-movie situations for an hour and a half before the end abruptly happens, with just as little motivation as everything else in the picture.
What’s especially maddening about Vanishing on 7th Street is that there are some interesting elements to the film; they just get completely overlooked by the story. Much of the movie is kind of a weird version of the rapture, but its religious imagery is perfunctory and without any real thought behind it. Likewise, when a character works as a film projectionist, you’d kind of assume some meta-commentary would enter the movie. But not here! These opportunities are wasted just as much as the film’s premise, making the trip through shadow-puppet town sluggish and dull. Even The Happening had its idiotic “it was the trees dun did it,” explanation, but the shadow-puppet apocalypse exists outside of explanations, or indeed logic of any kind. So does Vanishing on 7th Street.
Watch the Vanishing on 7th Street trailer: