Brad Anderson is interested in the end of things. In The Machinist, he examined the end of one man’s ability to deal with reality and its resulting madness. In Transsiberian, he examined one woman’s reaction to the possible end of her marriage and by extension her emotional existence. In Vanishing on 7th Street he looks at a more literal end: that of the world. A strange darkness has seemingly overtaken the earth. Anyone not in possession of a light has disappeared; the few survivors find any means of light at their disposal (flashlights, Halloween glowsticks, and solar lit bus shelters) to try and evade the apparent living darkness. Four of them (named rather Biblically Luke, James, Paul and Rosemary) find temporary shelter in a bar whose owner seemed to think the end of the world was nigh. But the sun no longer rises, and the power is running out. Humans beings are diurnal; many are afraid of the dark with good reason.
Unfortunately, as a whole, the film does not quite succeed. This is disappointing, as Anderson has proved in his previous work how original he can be, how he is able to keep his audience guessing and draw out a thriller. His examination of characters on the edge is chilling, as he finds the darkest corners where fear lies. In this film, though, he tips his hat a bit too early. There are strong moments, particularly among the great ensemble cast of just four (Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo and Jacob Latimore), when they attempt to figure out the how and why of their situation and whether there is any hope.
The film though falls too often into Hollywood cliché: the Biblicality of the names seems deliberate, Newton’s character (disappointing for such a strong actor) falls into the stereotype of a woman gone mad over the loss of her child and an obsession with religion, and Christensen is the stereotypical doubting male. The living darkness is too immediately revealed as some kind of alien force; fear is more powerful when it gives the impression of being in the mind rather than real. There are some genuine scares and brilliant visual moments, especially with the varying forms of light and the quality they cast, and how that reflects upon the scenery. But the film is less satisfying than Anderson’s previous work. This is more a problem with the script than with the director; however, it is surprising that Anderson would not look beyond the (granted) very good premise and see its potential for character study.