With noise as the intimidating, ear-splitting preferred weapon of choice in blockbusters these days, or the prevailing scare tactic in horror movies to the point of plain annoying, director Brad Anderson (Session 9, Transsiberian, The Machinist) has come up with a comparatively novel idea, in his sci-fi alien invasion Vanishing On 7th Street. Namely, silence. Save for really creepy heavy breathing, that tends to mimic one’s not exactly worst nightmare but close enough to it – with those cringe inducing anonymous telephone callers on the other end of the line in the real world.
Add to that a mounting panic mode instigated by invisible territorial creatures from a parallel universe, who inexplicably specialize in energy theft, and possible daylight-jacking as well. Leading Anderson to substantially stack up quite a checklist here for effective horror. But sustaining the momentum of those evolving elements, however, is another story entirely.
Vanishing On 7th Street – or rather one of the only remaining spots on the planet where humans have yet to vanish – centers on an inner city Detroit bar, where the few freaked out remaining Motor City residents gravitate as the lights go out everywhere. And as people disappear from the earth, along with light sources, they appear to be leaving behind their clothes, which litter the floors of buildings and pavements of streets. And as invisible alien heavy breathers with apparently no need for garments, lurk in the shadows and dispense with the population in an advancing silent hostile takeover.
Turning up at the bar because the light generator there is powered by gasoline instead – which these rude aliens haven’t quite figured out yet – are four terrified humans, including John Leguizamo, Thandie Newton, Hayden Christensen, and a baffled young boy played by Jacob Lattimore. Meanwhile, the daylight hours are decreasing each day, as these stressed out survivors hunt down temporary portable makeshift sources of light, while dodging unseen interplanetary interlopers. Though why none of these highly resourceful characters think to raid a night vision goggles supply store, is anybody’s guess.
There are some truly terrifying moments as clothes minus their bodies are strewn around the world in some sort of bizarre wardrobe malfunction, and kind of the opposite of airport body scanners. And including planes abruptly falling from the sky as they nosedive into midtown streets. Along with a petrified patient awakening from his anesthesia to find his chest propped open, and the surgical staff suddenly missing in action from the operating room.
But much like his besieged characters, Anderson seems perpetually uncertain as to which direction to turn, and how to best propel his philosophically laced plot along. Leading to a panic-laden itinerary lacking narrative self-confidence, and both literally and figuratively staggering in the dark between crazed hysteria and contrasting sedate hokey mysticism.
Magnolia Pictures Rated R 2 1/2 stars