Right at Your Door / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | August 23, 2007 | Comments ()
I cannot, in good conscience, recommend writer/director Chris Gorak’s first feature film, Right at Your Door. Not because it’s a bad film. On the contrary, for what it is — a disaster movie made on a shoelace aglet budget — you can hardly expect much better; in fact, if it were any more skillfully executed, I suspect I’d be under my desk sucking despair through a straw and blowing great big bubbles of sudsy anguish. Right at Your Door is bleak, man. As in, Virgil Caine bleak. And it’s powerful enough in its grimness to set your therapy sessions back a few weeks, at the very least.
It’s a fairly simple premise: The movie opens with your typical husband/wife, Brad (Rory Cochrane) and Lexi (Mary McCormack), getting ready for their day in a residential L.A. neighborhood. Brad makes coffee and brushes his teeth. Lexi sleeps a little late. It’s apparent they had a minor squabble the night before. They’re not particularly likable folks, but then, they’re not loathsome, either. They’re just an average couple. On her way out the door, Lexi reminds her unemployed musician of a husband to pick up the dry cleaning, and he politely tells her to “drive safe” as she leaves for work.
A few minutes later, a series of dirty bombs goes off in the city and, for several hours, Brad is frantic, desperate to find out if his wife survived. He leaves a string of messages on her cell phone (“Just call me and tell me you’re okay”) and paces around his house anxiously. Gorak impressively captures Brad’s frenetic worry, the rising discomfort, the fear of the unknown — the city is going to hell around him and expectedly, his only thought is, “Where the hell is my wife?” Giving up hope that she’ll find her way back, Brad finally jumps into his car and heads toward downtown to find her. The police, however, are quick to barricade all entrances into the city, trapping residents in their neighborhoods. They have no compunction, either, about shooting anyone who tries to get into the city. It’s like a Bauer-less episode of “24” — just a lot of hysteria, chaos and confusion, an effect exacerbated by Gorak’s deft handheld camera work.
When Brad returns to his house, a handyman, Alvaro (Tony Perez), working nearby has broken in, desperate to find a place to hide out. After hearing on the radio that the bombs were toxic and lethal, pursuant to emergency-broadcast instructions, Alvaro convinces a clearly reluctant Brad to seal up his house with plastic and duct tape to prevent contaminants from entering (now we know why Ashcroft wanted us to have duct tape!). And, of course, once Brad seals up the house, Lexi finally arrives, coughing, throw-uppy, and clearly infected. So, he’s basically given a choice: Allow his wife inside, which will surely kill both Brad and Alvaro, or stand by and watch his panicky wife slowly die outside his door.
Hell. What would any of us do? Watch a loved one die inches away from you, or choose to die with him or her? Brad chooses not to let her in, a decision that Lexi has some difficulty accepting at first, though she eventually comes to terms with Brad’s reasoning. So, over the next two days or so, Brad and Lexi talk through plastic and glass, carry on awful “I’m about to die” conversations with family, and basically wallow in hopelessness. It’s enough to drive even Elisabeth Kubler Ross mad.
Right at Your Door is an intensely uncomfortable film to watch — one of the least escapist films I’ve seen in a very long time. I kind of hated it, to be honest, though I could appreciate Gorak’s achievements: But for a draggy second act, it’s an intense, gripping film that feels as real as any disaster film you’re likely to see. And that’s probably my biggest complaint: Up until the film’s twist ending (which is no less bleak than the expected conclusion, though it is slighty gimmicky), it feels all too real. And I guess I’ve just never felt all that curious about the intimacies of a dirty bomb attack.
I suppose, also, that there’s some sort of political undercurrent flowing through Gorak’s film, but I’m reluctant to read too much into it. Given the way the authorities are depicted (as menacing), Gorak may be trying to tell us that our worst enemy is actually the government. But then again, presumably the government did not set off the dirty bombs inside of L.A. and, in that respect, Right at Your Door seems to offer some sort of primer for worst-case scenarios. He also seems to make a case against the media, whose need to report news — even if it is unconfirmed misinformation — often backfires on its consumers. I dunno. I chose to see the film apolitically: As a claustrophobic and intense reminder not to take life for granted, because you just never know when you’ll have to helplessly watch a loved one suffer a slow, agonizing death just inches away while you are separated by a thin sheet of plastic.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.