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Logic need not interfere with the bloody trappings of any horror film, but audiences want to understand the ground rules. This darkness, containing whispering voices and shadowy figures, presumably of those who vanished during the Rapture, vanquishes souls indiscriminately. The only rule seems to be that a person clutching any sort of light, a flashlight or even a lighted match, is spared. Sometimes. Lights go on and off willy-nilly so nothing is certain. And, really, how many times can you have characters trip and lose control of flashlights without inviting laughter?
By the time Vanishing reaches cinema theaters, its already small audience may have vanished as well since the Magnet release will be available On Demand six weeks prior.
The film, directed by Brad Anderson, proudly proclaims it was shot entirely in Detroit, presumably because that’s one major American city center that can look depressed and deserted without much effort by a film crew.
After a couple of wide shots of abandoned streets and crashed cars following a massive power outage, the film swiftly retreats to a single set, a tavern with the mocking name of Sonny’s Happy Hour, where four terrified survivors huddle against the dark miasma.
These are a slick TV newsman (Hayden Christensen), a physical therapist (Thandie Newton) distraught over her missing baby, a movie projectionist (John Leguizamo) whose headlamp saved him and a youngster (Jacob Latimore) safeguarding his mother’s bar.
The infrastructure of the city has disintegrated and daylight hours grow precipitously shorter. Meanwhile all the characters scream and shout frequently as if this siege was as much mental as physical. And while it’s nice the survivors continue to run the old jukebox with its fine collection of rhythm and blues, it takes forever for them to realize they’re running down the tavern’s generator, their only light source.
Anthony Jaswinski’s script emphasizes shock and terror over religious issues although the role of a neighborhood church in saving some characters and a little chitchat about guilt and fate assures that such issues don’t completely fade into the dark. The film is designed more to tease audiences as the edges of darkness creep ever more closely to its few characters.
Anderson supplies a certain amount of style and energy in his direction. But the threat is too amorphous; people disappear, leaving behind only a pile of clothes to mark their existence on Earth, without any real horror. Indeed if this is the Rapture, shouldn’t their disappearance be cause for celebration?
Since the movie ends on an exceedingly flat note, it’s possible the filmmakers themselves never quite figured out what this threat to mankind portents. While never going in the direction of an alien invasion movie, Vanishing fails to establish even an M. Night Shyamalan sense of dread. A sentient cloud of darkness creeping along already darkened city streets may be photogenic but it isn’t exactly a villain you love to hate.
Opens: On Demand Jan. 7; in theaters Feb. 18 (Magnet)
Production companies: Herrick Entertainment/Mandalay Vision
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo, Jacob Latimore
Director: Brad Anderson
Screenwriter: Anthony Jaswinski
Producers: Norton Herrick, Tove Christensen, Celine Rattray
Director of photography: Ute Briesewitz
Production designer: Stephen Beatrice
Music: Lucas Vidal
Costume designer: Danielle Hollowell
Editor: Jeffrey Wolf
Sales: IM Global
Rated R, 90 minutes
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