By Jonathan Wojcik
ENTRY 02: VANISHING ON 7TH STREET
Our second entry is a fairly overlooked 2010 horror thriller Written by Anthony Jaswinski. The story begins with a theater projectionist named Paul (John Leguizamo) enjoying a book in the dark projection room with the aid of a headlamp. But when the power abruptly goes out, just momentarily, the entire packed theater falls immediately silent.
Paul finds nothing left of the theater patrons and staff but crumpled piles of clothing until he finds a security guard also equipped with his own light. That light, however, is already beginning to fade, and when it finally flickers out, so does its owner, as the surrounding shadows appear to reach out and smother the man in a chorus of eerie, inhuman chattering and whispering. Paul's own light begins to falter as the battery runs low, and we soon find that Paul isn't quite the main character of this story, but just another of its first casualties.
The real protagonist is television reporter Luke Ryder (Hayden Christensen), who wakes up one morning to a disturbingly quiet city. The streets are littered with the empty sets of clothes, splattered drinks, busted phones and crashed vehicles. As he watches, an entire airliner sails down from the sky and explodes into a nearby city block.
As he explores, night begins to encroach slightly earlier than it even should, and he too witnesses a fellow survivor swallowed up by the dark. Finding the power out through most of the city, he finally discovers a bar still illuminated by its own generator, where he meets James Leary (Jacob Latimore) a little boy left to guard the safe haven until his mother comes back with more supplies.
Another subsequent arrival to the bar is a nurse named Rosemary (Thandiwe Newton) whose infant child disappeared from his own crib, and later none other than Paul, found by Luke and Rosemary under the solar powered lights of a bus stop. Paul is suffering a concussion, clearly remembering the sensation of someone striking him in the head and dragging him away back at the theater.
As it turns out, Paul's headlamp had only flickered out for a split second, not long enough for him to be taken completely. What he experienced, however, still felt like three entire days of suffocating or "drowning" as he struggled and fought back against formless assailants in a pitch dark abyss.
Things grow dire as the daylight not only continues to shorten, but even batteries are draining faster, and fires aren't remaining lit as easily. Desperate for answers, Luke returns to his own news station and rewatches the last moments ever broadcast: a weather report on a large, unusual storm, right when the power fails and he can see the reporter's empty clothing fall to the floor on-screen.
It's then that nearby televisions come alive with some sort of pirate broadcast; a physicist sending out a warning to anyone still alive. He states that the phenomenon remains unexplainable, but that the force is sentient enough to play tricks on people's minds, that the darkness even called to him with the voice of his late brother and that you can "only trust your own light."
We see this in action when Rosemary, sadly, follows the sound of a crying baby into the shadows, and again when Paul and James are left back at the bar. James appears to leave the room and stop responding to Paul, and so Paul goes looking for the kid to find a doorway to a long concrete tunnel, illuminated by ceiling lights. Paul follows the tunnel to a dead end, and the lights begin to turn off one by one, the shadows forming an enormous set of "fingers" as they close in on him.
James, however, is just fine....returning from the other room to find Paul's empty clothing right where he left him. Now with only two survivors remaining, Luke resolves to leave with James, but the child is positive that his mother should be waiting for him at their church. Luke is reluctant and pessimistic, but ultimately helps the boy reach the church shortly before Luke at last succumbs to the shadows himself.
James, unfortunately, finds only some of his mother's belongings left at the church, surrounded by diminishing candles, as though she had indeed been waiting for him until lured into the dark only recently. Left with no other source of light, James can only curl up and wait for the candles to diminish, the shadows encroaching ever closer.
In a callback to some earlier dialog, James shuts his eyes and begins repeating to himself: I exist. I exist. I exist. He keeps chanting the mantra as the candlelight weakens, and finally the scene goes black.
...But miraculously, James awakens safely to dim sunlight, and he's found by an orphaned little girl we've already seen lurking around the city with a solar powered flashlight. The two kids quickly befriend one another and set out on their own into the empty world, but as they walk the still and silent highway out of the city, the sun begins to set, and we see the shadows of three adults watching from the bar.
In the end, it's impossible to say if James survived thanks to his conviction to "exist" or if the phenomenon itself is actually drawing closer to some kind of conclusion. We also don't know how long he lay there in the Church before opening eyes, nor how long the kids have been walking in that final shot, so there's no telling if the days are still continuing to shorten or slowly returning. All we know is that, unless we're dealing with a localized distortion of reality or area effect, the vast majority of people on Earth are already gone.
I found Vanishing on 7th Street to have an intriguing, well executed premise, solid performances and just the right amount of mystery. Unfortunately, its 2010 reviews are riddled with critics who seem surprisingly bewildered by its modest degree of ambiguity. Was the cultural environment really so different just twelve years before I'm writing this? Don't people love spooky tales full of unanswered questions and unnameable threats? One review calls its premise "randomly(ugh) ridiculous and utterly asinine," while even the positive reviews use a lot of words like "cerebral" or "surreal."
Maybe I've just been desensitized by a lot of horror manga, creepypasta and pulp sci-fi fantasy, but this is far from the wildest notion we've seen from spooky media, right? I'm not alone in thinking maybe these folks need to branch out a bit more? Of course, if you branch out enough, your response to this story might just swing in the opposite direction, and you'll find yourself wishing it had only been stranger, since I certainly felt as if it could have been pushed a tad farther.
MONSTER REVIEW: THE DARK
The monster in this movie is "darkness" itself, in a more literal sense than we're used to from countless magical fantasy settings that conflate it with some mystic force of evil or death. You could easily interpret the entity or entities in this movie as ghostly, demonic, lovecraftian or even extraterrestrial if you like, but I prefer the interpretation that the sheer absence of light has somehow been imbued with a malevolent will; that shadows themselves have become monstrous, rather than a convenient place for the monstrous to hide.
When Luke replays those final minutes of recorded news footage, the weather report and "unusual storm" seem to take center stage, but a preceding line of dialog piqued my interest a little more: that Luke himself had been investigating the scandal of "security breaches at a nuclear power plant." There's also a scene in which Paul rattles off a long list of explanations he considered, and among the last he gets out before he's rudely interrupted involve dimensional rifts and particle accelerators. Though other characters assume it's some religious event, I think the narrative is meant to give a more science-fantasy impression, and that the nature of reality may very well have been broken by scientific experimentation.
If you want the wild speculation my own thoughts jumped to from there, what if this is actually one of those "psychic projection" situations? Something manifesting into existence from the human imagination? Fear is arguably the most powerful and fundamental of all emotions, and the most universal, most primordial fears of humankind revolve heavily around darkness, nothingness, oblivion and the unknown; absences of light, of life and even of yourself. In this story, the dark becomes something that consumes people and erases their identity, dissolving them into a part of itself, somehow bending the very laws of nature to its benefit as it grows stronger.
The writer really could have been thinking more along the line of demons or ghosts for all I know, but I personally think this is exactly the "monster" humanity would face if the collective subconscious of our entire species were suddenly capable of affecting the surrounding reality at all. Not enough for us to be aware of it or control it, but more than enough to bring horrible, horrible life to the oldest, purest terrors rooted deepest in the most ancient, reptilian depths of several billion disastrously imaginative brains.
I could be way off the mark, sure, but it makes sense to me. It would even explain the particular way James fended it off! Why, the only loose thread in my version is just who could have possibly screwed with nuclear physics that badly.