Director Brad Anderson began his career making indie dramas and romances, but ever since 2001’s Session 9, he’s burrowed deep into the thriller genre, helming The Machinist, Transsiberian, and several of the best episodes of the TV series Fringe. In Anderson’s Vanishing On 7th Street—written by Anthony Jaswinski—Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, and John Leguizamo are among a handful of Detroit residents who survive a mysterious blackout that causes nearly everyone else in the city to disappear, leaving only their clothes behind. As the remnants gather in a bar with a working (albeit sputtering) generator, they try to figure out their next move, while arguing about what’s going on, and why they of all people have been spared. And as the scope of the story narrows to just a few locations and characters—aside from the occasional brief flashback—Anderson works hard to ramp up the tension.
Frankly, he fights a losing battle for much of Vanishing On 7th Street. After a promising start with a nearly wordless opening 15 minutes, Vanishing becomes awfully talky, with far more time spent on the characters’ bickering than on them racing to escape the encroaching darkness. On the whole, the movie plays like a needlessly extended episode of a TV anthology series, clinging tightly to a single cool premise: the idea that whatever caused the Roanoke colony to disappear may have returned. But even though there isn’t a lot here, Anderson and cinematographer Uta Briesewitz find ways to enhance the central conceit visually, by supplying the heroes with a variety of light sources: a neon jukebox, Christmas lights, glow-sticks, flickering lighters, low-watt table lamps, and even a film-projector bulb. That isn’t enough to compensate for a slim story, but Vanishing On 7th Street does work well as a kind of mood-piece, observing all the ways we surround ourselves with the illusion of warmth and security, before the shadows creep in.