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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Vanishing on 7th Street": What the heck went wrong?

I had high hopes for "Vanishing on 7th Street." My interest was initially piqued when I heard comparisons of the film to the video game "Alan Wake," which is one of my favorite games in recent memory. The game follows the eponymous main character as he searches for his wife through a living darkness and uses light as a weapon in both typical (flashlight) and creative (flashbang grenades!) ways. "Vanishing" follows four people as they fight to survive against a living darkness using light as a survival tool, so I was in.

There are some nice elements to the movie. The visual effects, particularly the shadow people, are pretty good. The general atmosphere is creepy. There's really a feeling of impending doom as the shadows continue to close, and the survivors' sole sanctuary, day, literally keeps getting shorter.

The four leads do a generally respectable job carrying a movie in which the rules keep changing, several plot points that seem relevant in the beginning are abandoned, and the end gives you no payoff or explanation whatsoever. The director wanted to make the movie deliberately vague...has that ever worked out well?

Where it really falls apart for me is the characters' lack of preparation. For me, it's infuriating.

*spoilers ahead*

After the initial darkpocalypse claims nearly every living soul in the city, we see Hayden Christensen running through the city 72 hours later. He has several LED flashlights draped all over him, and that's good. We find out later that the survivors already know that batteries die much more quickly than they're supposed to, and during a tense scene they are forced to make a torch to fend off the shadows. It turns out that fire still works like a charm.

Imagine yourself in that same situation. Are you going to apparently do no prep whatsoever during the daylight hours and just wait for night to come so you can count on a few increasingly undependable flashlights to keep you alive as you scavenge for a flare or two?

Or are you going to take advantage of the fact that anything in the city is yours for the taking and hole up at a Wal-Mart or Target (there are roughly a zillion of them in the area)? Candles, flares, tiki torches, matches/lighters/flints...oh, and lots of food, tools, communication equipment, weapons and just about everything else you need to live...you could survive in a store like that indefinitely. If you wanted company, you could make it a beacon for other potential survivors. Even if you have to become mobile, you could load up a cart, attach it to a bicycle, and roll. When the darkness comes, you stop, light some stuff, and wait it out. A creative filmmaker could make some tense scenes without forcing the "alone and unprepared for the third straight night" thing.

I couldn't get past this, and the movie was ruined for me because of it. I firmly believe that every film needs someone like me as a consultant, someone who would say, "Okay, no one would do that. No one is that dumb. Try this instead."

"Just throwing a score out there" score: 5 out of 10. And then I'll subtract another star for disappointing me personally.

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