Darkness smites Detroit, in the form of a mammoth blackout and creepy shadows that steal the bodies and souls of nearly all in town.
Only a few survive, and they struggle and scramble to remain in the light and thus stay alive. That’s the promising premise of the ultimately fizzling “Vanishing on 7th Street,” a horror thriller in which stylish landscapes and nifty creep-out tactics can’t offset the problem of an inadequate story.
Director Brad Anderson makes edgy star-powered indies (“The Machinist,” featuring a particularly extreme Christian Bale) and smarter versions of conventional genre fare (the romantic comedy “Happy Accidents,” the suspense thriller “Transsiberian”).
This time, he trades the too-pristine white of the Russian snow for a darker brand of sinister and delivers a B-movie-inspired creeper. It’s efficient at first.
The horror begins with a power outage of biblical proportion, followed by a morning-after sequence in which the Motor City has become barren. People have disappeared, with clothing and cars serving as evidence of their existence. Only those who happened to be near a light source during the blackout have survived.
For some reason, such survivors, in all of Detroit, appear to number just four: movie projectionist Paul (John Leguizamo), TV reporter Luke (Hayden Christensen), physiotherapist Rosemary (Thandie Newton), and 12-year-old James (Jacob Latimore), whose mother is missing. They come together at a bar where a power generator keeps things lighted, albeit shakily.
The action consists of their struggles to stay in the light and get out of town as sunlight decreases, flashlight batteries die, candles flicker and darkness constantly threatens to consume them.
The darkness takes the form of malignantly creeping fingerlike shadows, rendered in low-frills CGI.
Anderson makes the most of his limited resources, serving up eerie landscapes, simple aural distortions and other welcome, modest versions of scare devices people want in a horror flick.
The deathly shadows are original and menacing. There’s some dark humor (“Happy days are here again,” reads some verbiage at the bar).
But as the novelty appeal wanes, Anderson can’t keep things chilling, and a dramatic diminuendo occurs. Short on plot, character dimension, action and ideas, Anthony Jaswinski’s screenplay is the primary culprit.
We get frustratingly little clue regarding what has caused the catastrophe; the debate features routine randomness-vs.-God tedium.
Occasional backstories, related with flashbacks, add a jot of richness but can’t make up for the stereotypical presentation of the characters of take-charge level-headed Luke and romantically inclined Paul, for starters.
The cast can’t produce much emotional reality from all this, but 13-year-old Latimore, appealingly down-to-earth, makes a memorable impression.
Starring Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo, Jacob Latimore
Written by Anthony Jaswinski
Directed by Brad Anderson
Running time 1 hour 30 minutes