Read our exclusive interview with director Brad Anderson, who helmed the upcoming post-apocalyptic horror-thriller movie ‘Vanishing on 7th Street.’ The film, which is set to have a limited February 18, 2011 theatrical release, follows a group of four strangers who discover Detroit has been hit by a black-out. The four strangers, who are played by Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, John Leguizamo and newcomer Jacob Latimore, try to figure out how to stay alive as people around them are simply vanishing after being engulfed by the dark. Anderson discusses with us, among other things, why he decided to use shadows to bring on the apocalypse, and why he thinks people are afraid of the dark.
Shockya (SY): ‘Vanishing on 7th Street’ takes place, and was shot, in Detroit. Why did you decide to shoot and set the post-apocalyptic thriller in one of the country’s biggest cities?
Brad Anderson (BA): One of the reasons we shot it there is because Michigan has really good tax breaks and substitutes to shoot. With Detroit, we were looking for a city that would visually work for us and would capture a dark, forbidding, abandoned city. To be honest, with Detroit, we didn’t have to do much production design. We just shot Detroit as Detroit, which I felt made sense.
SY: The film is unique in the fact that instead of using weapons or technology to bring on the apocalypse, it instead uses the shadows and dark. Why did you decide to do that?
BA: This was a script I wrote. With the script, if you see the film, there’s no explanation given. What’s happening is purposely left ambiguous. The shadows are the monster or the villain, if you will. It’s interesting to me because it’s not as if there’s a nuclear threat or a virus, or anything like that. What I did was an existential threat. People are confronted with disappearances without any real explanation. They’re left to debate what that means. The circumstances as to why this is happening were less interesting to me than the reactions and the behavior of the people, the survivors of the story. It’s not a typical apocalyptic genre film at all. I was never into that.
SY: What is it about the dark that people find so frightening?
BA: Well, I think it’s what you don’t see more than what you do see that are the most terrifying or the most discerning. Much of what we tried to capture was the potential of what happens in the darkness. It’s very veiled and not specific. I mean, people in general, I think, their fear of the dark, they’re brought up to believe there are bad things to associate with the dark. With this movie, and this story, what’s different is that we’re not fighting the darkness, it’s the darkness itself that has become a threat. That’s kind of a creepy notion. We did a lot with animating the shadows, and creating an ambiguous reason to the way the darkness and shadows move in the story. I always wanted to keep it not specific; you never really knew how it was operating, how the darkness was making people disappear or vanish. A lot of people were vanishing, for that matter. I think in general we fear the darkness because the darkness is the unknown, and with this movie, the unknown, the movie is all about that. I liked the idea of it, the simple, clear-cut explanation to why we disappear or die. I was getting to the heart of that fear. I was interested in that kind of script.
SY: Like you said, the people are being attacked by the shadows and the dark, and their bodies simply vanish. Why did you decide to make their bodies disappear?
BA: That’s just the premise of the story. There’s no explanation, specific explanation given. There’s a guy who walks out onto a city street and sees little clumps of clothes where before there were people, pedestrians walking on busy sidewalks. To me, that’s very discerning, a scary image. You have to have some evidence behind for the vanished. We decided that the only thing that would go would be your physical body. Everything else would be left behind. It’s some cool visuals.
SY: The majority of the movie focuses on the four main characters, struggling to survive. Do you think having such a small cast helped the audience emphasize with them?
BA: Yes, to a degree. Each of these characters are trying to make sense of the situation in their own specific way. Some characters are trying to apply some Biblical, religious explanation to the situation. John’s character is looking for some specific scientific explanation. Hayden’s character is really not looking for an explanation at all. He’s just trying to get the heck out of Dodge. So they each kind of approach it in their own way. In all of the characters’ predicament, they try to find those moments where they can connect to their struggle. These actors were all drawn to the project, like I was, to the script and the premise. It was a challenge pulling it off. It was a lot of work with actors who can read characters.
SY: Even though the characters are strangers when they meet, Hayden’s character almost immediately assumes the role of the group’s leader. Why was it important to you for the characters to bond in the wake of the disaster?
BA: Well, it’s human instinct (to bond) in a disastrous scenario. They join forces, in this case, to survive. It would also bring the most basic personalities of the characters out when they’re in a survival situation. In this case, Hayden’s character rises to the tradition to rally the troops, to not just sit around, to accept their situation. They’re trying to figure a way out of it. That psychology, group psychology, is part of the intent of the story, these four survivors, with this one oasis of light. They are struggling to figure out what’s next. The relationships developed between them rather quickly. In those situations, you bond with other people under distress. Stressful situations can happen very quickly. The whole story goes down in one night. It’s kind of like a ‘Lifeboat’ situation. I looked at movies for reference for this film. One movie I looked at was Hitchcock’s movie ‘Lifeboat,’ in which a handful of survivors from a torpedoed boat are stuck at sea. You get to see the true nature of each character. It’s interesting, putting characters in those predicaments, seeing how they react, you see very extreme forms of behavior.
SY: The movie is rumored to have a budget of $10 million. Was it difficult to shoot it on this small budget?
BA: I wish we had a budget of $10 million, it was substantially lower than that. But we did this movie very quickly, under a very limited budget. We shot the movie in 20 days, it was very fast. It was a whirlwind production. From my experience it’s very typical for smaller films. It had to be done fast for budget concerns. But I like working that way. But the difference I think in this one was in post-production. We were done shooting, but the process of figuring out what the shadows were going to look like, how the darkness was going to appear in the movie, which was done digitally, of course, and figuring out a look for the movie, and coming up with the way the shadows and darkness move, and all those kinds of details, we put a lot of time and effort into those details. It’s not like any film I’ve done before. It’s CGI-heavy, even though it’s a smaller movie. It’s affordable, even on a smaller budget. We did a quick take. Like I said, we shot in Detroit because it was affordable, and we worked a lot to create a consistent tone and look in the movie. It was a challenging process.
SY: The post-apocalyptic genre has a lot of popular movies in recent years, such as ‘2012’ and ’28 Days Later.’ Why do audiences like them so much?
BA: It’s always fun to contemplate your own demise, in a way. I think particularly, you can point to all sorts of factors. I don’t think it’s one particular thing, specific to our day and age. I mean, back in the ’50s, there were end-of-the-world, nuclear Holocaust films. I think people have always been morbidly curious like that. The past 10 years since 9/11, there are parallels to that. I mean, we go to the movies to experience things we don’t have the luxury to experience in our everyday lives. Certainly watching the end of the world, it can be fun, like real popcorn stories like ‘2012’ or it can be darker, more forbidding-type stories, like in ’28 Days Later’ or ’28 Weeks Later.’ This movie, you can qualify as apocalyptic. It’s much more contained, just by the nature of the story. We set out on a limited budget to make a big, spectacular movie. We focused more on the characters than the idea of what the end of the world might be, or envisioning something literally on the screen. But those stories can be compelling, really interesting. There’s no shortage of reasons why the world could end. But what I like about this script is that it’s a bit of a fresh approach to the genre. It’s not Martians coming down or extra-territorials blowing us away or zombies or viruses coming out of labs. It’s more cosmic, maybe even some kind of spiritual explanation as to why people are simply vanishing. I like the fact it kept a lot of those explanations alive, not necessarily settle in on one specific one. It’s not the Christian apocalypse, or whether this is some physics experiment gone wrong, or something else. The thing that drew me to it is just that, the lack of concrete explanations. To me, that’s always the most disturbing explanation of all, when there is no explanation. It keeps everything up in the air, and that always creates a level of unease. You don’t have the satisfaction of having a clear-cut reason. Everything is possible. In my mind, that’s scarier.
SY: You’ve worked in the horror and thriller genres before, such as directing ‘Session 9.’ Would you be interested in working on another horror movie in the future?
BA: Yes, I have a couple of movies lined up. I have some other projects in development that can certainly be considered horror, but maybe not in the traditional sense. But psychological horror, psychological thriller. I have a few other projects that are in development that are in that ballpark. I have other projects in development that are completely different. There are some dramas, some that are romantic! You have to keep a lot of pokers in the fire. But I like the genre, these types of stories that allow me as a director to envision something, a world that’s unique, that allows you to be cinematic. We’re creating cool visuals. I think with darker movies, you have a lot of opportunities in that way. There are always challenges, particularly being scared and being shocked. To make something scary, it gets harder and harder for filmmakers and storytellers. The genre evolved, whether people are doing low-budget movies, like ‘Paranormal Activity,’ or whether it’s some huge, 3D, Hollywood, summer master horror movie. There’s always room in the genre to play around. It makes it that much more fun.
Written by: Karen Benardello