By AMY NICHOLSON
By ALAN SCHERSTUHL
By CAROLINA DEL BUSTO
By AMY NICHOLSON
By STEPHANIE ZACHAREK
By R. Scott Moxley
You can call Right At Your Door the feel-bad date movie of the year, a contemporary answer to something like On the Beach, When the Wind Blows, or any number of Twilight Zone episodes about the end of the world. Whether audiences will want to spend their movie night watching residents of Los Angeles helplessly endure a bio-terrorism attack is hard to say; there's a reason the most infamous apocalypse movies, like The Day After and Threads, were made for TV, as people don't necessarily want to shell out movie-ticket dollars to be hugely depressed and made even more paranoid about the world outside. But, at the very least, it may make you glad you live in OC.
Lexi (Mary McCormack) and Brad (Rory Cochrane) have just moved into a new house in an affluent LA hillside neighborhood. They wake up in the morning, shower, make coffee . . . all those normal activities given additional weight by the knowledge we have (and they don't) that this will be the last ordinary day. The TV-cable guy hasn't arrived yet, so radio is their only window on the world, and the traffic reports mention congestion on the 101 freeway. Lexi heads off for work using surface streets; Brad, being an unemployed musician, stays home to unpack their many boxes of possessions.
Brad is brushing his teeth when the familiar whine of the emergency broadcast system goes on the air, with news of an explosion in downtown LA. And then another. And more. Immediately thinking of Lexi, he heads out to get her but is blocked at every turn. In the distance, billowing smoke clouds from the burning skyscrapers are darkening the sky.
It gets worse. These were not just bombs, but dirty bombs, containing unknown contagions. The science gets a bit murky here, considering that biological attacks would seem to be more efficient without explosives being involved—explosives being better for radioactive weapons, and heat bad for microbes—but it's best not to overthink that side of it, at least not yet. Fortunately for Brad—if anything under these circumstances can be considered fortunate—he's near a hardware store and manages to get some duct-tape rolls before it closes for good. But he still can't get through to Lexi—does he dare seal up the house before she makes it home?
It's not a massive spoiler to reveal that he does, and by the time she makes it home alive, she must stay outside as the poison ash falls, separated from her husband (and the neighbor's handyman, played by Tony Perez, who has taken shelter with Brad) by a thin plastic sheet that may be his only hope for staying healthy and alive, as they wait for assistance that may never come—and may not be benevolent when it does.
Shot on super-16 in close quarters, Right At Your Door has an immediacy and reality reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, especially when night falls and strange noises are heard. We know bad things are happening all around, but we only get a taste of the larger picture—birds dropping dead, unreliable news reports, mysterious men in chemical suits. There's no levity at all to distract from the unrelenting horror, unless you consider the entire film to be a big sick joke at the expense of Homeland Security's plastic-sheeting-and-duct-tape advice, much as When the Wind Blows demolished the idea put forward in U.K. government leaflets that a homemade shelter of doors and mattresses could save you from nuclear bombs.
Many, if not all, of the '80s nuclear-war movies were and still are derided by conservatives as liberal propaganda meant to scare people toward appeasement policies. It's hard to know what political pundits will make of this—on one hand, it appears to pump up the terror threat, but it never so much as suggests who is responsible. And Ronald Reagan's famous anecdote about the scariest words in the English language being "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help" certainly come to mind during the film's second half (and just as The Day After utilized a Reagan impersonation in its original broadcast, Right At Your Door does similarly with a Dick Cheney sound-alike). But this is also where writer/director Chris Gorak overplays his hand just a touch—unable to decide whether government officials are hopeless incompetents à la Hurricane Katrina, or evil fascists from a New World Order conspiracy, he opts for an uncertain mix of both that jeopardizes the sense of reality—and detracts from the intimacy of the story—at the very end. It's not a deal breaker, but the movie is so intense for most of its running time that the contrived conclusion may leave you scratching your head rather than desperately reaching for the Valium.
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