Monday, September 13, 2010

TIFF 2010 reviews: Vanishing on 7th Street

Oh well, first dud of the festival, and it always seems to happen around flick four for me. Had my first mid-day Midnight Madness screening today, Brad Anderson’s Vanishing on 7th Street. MM has long been one of my favourite programs of TIFF; I’ve seen at least one of its shows every year since ’05, peaking two years ago when I saw six out of the ten, the heaviest concentration of any fest program. That burned me out a bit, especially a certain French torture-porn experience I won’t rehash, so last year I dialled it back to two, and wound up batting .500 on my picks. I’ve got three on my docket currently, though I’m debating cranking the caffeine and actually going to a proper 11:59 PM tomorrow night if tix are still available, after all I do have Wednesday off work.

But enough OCD trivia. Anderson’s probably best known for The Machinist, which was an earlier entry at Midnight Madness that was notorious for Christian Bale starving himself down to 110 pounds for the shoot, and then having to bulk back up again to play Batman immediately afterwards. I haven’t seen that one, but I’ve heard such good things that I was willing to give this one a shot, as the synopsis had a certain creepy Omega Man read to it, and sounded like my favourite type of horror movie, an atmospheric cranking up of tension in a surreal cityscape. In his introduction, Colin Geddes mentioned that Anderson had flown back to L.A. immediately after the midnight screening the other night and was in fact on the set of his new film as he spoke, but...a couple of the stars were in the house (just for an intro, not hanging around for a Q&A). And out came Toronto’s own Hayden Christensen and the always lovely Thandie Newton. I’d make “Mannequin Skywalker” jokes but, in all honesty, I re-watched the prequels again recently and can’t really blame Christensen for his performances, there’s really nothing the greatest thespians in the world could do with Lucas’ dialogue.

Anyhow. Creepy atmospheric end-of-world eternal night horror flick, right? Sure, except for the horror part. Though it starts off strong, with some genuinely memorable set pieces—a suddenly pilotless airliner crashing into the Detroit skyline in the far background is particularly effective—things go south in a hurry as the four main characters (our two guests plus John Leguizamo and 14-year-old first-timer Jacob Latimore) hole up in a bar and freak out every time the lights dim. I hate to say it, shadows just aren’t scary unto themselves, and an hour and a half of “Stay in the light! Oh no, my flashlight’s dying!” gets really repetitive. “Silence In The Library” did this so much better; the Vashta Nerada put these darkness monsters to shame. And while I hate to whine about a movie for not serving everything up neatly on a platter, there’s never any resolution or explanation as to why nearly everyone on earth went poof when the power went out, and by the time the end credits rolled that payoff is about all that would have made up for the preceding hour and a bit of tedium. Might be the Rapture, might be a cosmic reset button was pressed, there are references to the “vanished” Roanoke colony but that’s left only vaguely resolved.

At any rate, I know I wasn’t the only one disappointed. Not once did I hear a sharp intake of breath indicating fright in the audience; I heard one oddly curious “Oh!” (and one might even drop the exclamation point from that word) at the initial mass vanishing and then near-silence for the rest of the screening. Maybe it was more effective at midnight. (*1/2)

My day, sadly, did not get better. I’d like to be blogging about 22nd of May , the first Belgian film I’ve seen since Man Bites Dog, but I had some bad food court Thai for dinner and the first half hour of the movie was hand-held shakeycam so I had to leave the theatre and get some air to head off the potential peristalsis. When I got home I re-read the synopsis in the Program Book and decided that it had possibly not been the wisest choice after all; as I’ll be in Belgium eight weeks from tomorrow I wanted to see something in Flemish but a surreal Rashomon-like philosophical thriller done entirely in nausea-inducing whip-pans wasn’t the ideal vacation preview.

Two more tomorrow (possibly three if I can score a ticket to Insidious), including a Welsh comedy—sadly not in Welsh—and that Hungarian science fiction flick starring Vesper Lynd and the eleventh Doctor. So I’m psyched.

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