Are you afraid of the dark? No? You should be, because it’s… well, there are these shadows… people, uh, things… they like, take people and stuff, you know? They’re kinda dead, but then they whisper, and it’s like a Jesus thing, or maybe dark matter particles…
Okay, screw it. Why take all of the time trying to figure out Vanishing on 7th Street if writer Anthony Jaswinski didn’t? Vanishing is part parable, part horror, part thriller, and part “insert your own thoughts here” movie, where four people are stuck on a small Detroit street slowly succumbing to the darkness. When you find yourself in the dark, “poof.” You disappear.
Vanishing doesn’t seem to want to go one way or the other, playing it safe while skirting a line between religion and science. Too far to the left, and the religious are offended, to far to the right, and the science geeks find the film a crass attempt at religious exploitation. It can’t win when it plays like this.
Hollywood likes this fad, leaving things unexplained and mysterious to add to the creepy vibe. That can work when a giant monster is pounding its way through the city (Cloverfield) or creatures are assaulting a closed-off locale (The Mist). When you insinuate the answer, the entire finale of Vanishing taking place in a church, it comes off as somewhat cowardly.
It’s not merely a case of explanation, the film in a constant state of reminding that the danger is persistent. Shadows creep and crawl along the walls, closing on this minimal cast who lie cowering in a bar. As the lights first go out, the shadows exist in the corners of the frame, barely discernible in your peripheral vision. It’s unnerving, the camera work leaving uncertainty as to whether or not its typical lighting or an effect.
By the end, characters begin running away, diving for light, and shuffling for working batteries; it’s all familiar. Budgetary constraints kill tension, John Leguizamo pounding on a brick wall that clearly bends to his will, and the ending? It doesn’t get more unsatisfying. If you’re in the the midst of Vanishing, heed this advice: Imagine the impending darkness are the Death Eaters from the Harry Potter series. These Muggles won’t know what hit them.
The Red One provides the source material here, and it’s generally terrible. Maybe not everything mind you, detail limited if present, Detroit looks great in a few expansive panoramas, and the black levels are fair. It’s the banding that is an oppressive, irritating, and non-stop presence. Vanishing is about light, containing countless sources of focused flashlights pointed right at the camera. Whether it’s the generally high bitrate encode or the Red One’s unexplained inner-workings, shifting gradiances are a complete mess. None of them work, which goes for the sky, walls, the shadows, you name it.
There’s a lot going on here digitally, and that’s speaking for more than just the camera. Shadows are of course created in unnatural ways, and the color grading drapes everything in precise hues. The bar becomes a haven of warmth, overflowing with bright oranges. Outside, deep blues dominate, and at times, the black levels are taken with them. Failed depth here doesn’t sit in some middling gray area (typically at least). They flounder because of the technical choices made in post.
Noise becomes a concern, far worse in the first act than anywhere else, swallowing significant portions of the frame. The video becomes a hazy mess, loaded with artifacts and other digital anomalies. Natural doesn’t seem like an apt descriptor even when Vanishing is trying to be. It has more to do with purposeful smoothing and directorial choices than anything else, yet all those do is ensure a pretty unpleasant viewing experience in hi-def.
Fine detail feels like a relief, overhead lights in the bar raining down some intensity on Leguizamo’s face after an injury. Those are the best of the best here, Vanishing using extreme, exaggerated lighting to produce a ridiculously firm, blooming contrast. The effect, in terms of narrative style, is spot on. In terms of visual flair, it’s equal to detail theft, although theft you can’t fault it for.
Vanishing doesn’t take advantage of its spacious DTS-HD 7.1 mix, more concerned with reproducing dialogue cleanly and audibly than anything else. So be it then, the darkness not the type of movie entity to wrap itself around the listener and bend a few floorboards. It is just the absence of light after all.
That’s not to say it offers nothing of note. Not long after Hayden Christensen discovers the missing populace, a plane falls from the sky in the background, exploding in an impressive little audio flourish. Electricity becomes the audible monster here, booming in the sub as it begins to power down. It’s a little bit of atmosphere too, adding dread and a jolt to a moment of what is sure to be death.
A few classic R&B tunes are pumped out of a jukebox, reproduced here with enough flair and fidelity to be mildly engaging. When it’s at full force and the focal point of the mix, it’s pleasing and pure.
Director Brad Anderson provides his thoughts in a commentary track, followed by a flurry of alternate endings, all of them tweaked only slightly. There’s nothing revelatory to be found, only different angles and color timing. Revealing The Vanishing on 7th Street is a generic making-of, seven minutes worth of interviews and thankful chatter. Creating the Mood on 7th Street details how the scares were done and the style at work.
A behind-the-scenes montage is a collection of random footage running a little over two minutes. Two lengthy Fangoria interviews run a half-hour, the widest ranging pieces here. The disc falls back down for an HDNet promo, not much more than an extended trailer. Following that, not surprisingly, are more trailers.