Reviewed by Debi Moore
Starring Rory Cochrane, Mary McCormack, Tony Perez
Written and directed by Chris Gorak
Distributed by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
“For better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health . . .” Who among us hasn’t heard these words repeated over and over at numerous weddings? I’m sure a significant portion of the people reading this review have even said them. Right at Your Door is a film that challenges its viewers to consider just how seriously they might take those vows when things go way beyond “worse” and “sickness” means an unknown level of toxicity that might or might not kill anybody who comes in contact with it. Married or not, how far would you go to protect yourself from an infected loved one?
Brad (Cochrane) and Lexi (McCormack) are a typical young LA couple. We don’t get a lot of background on them before the shit hits the fan (more on that in a moment), but they do seem to be genuinely in love with each other and have what appears to be an open-minded, modern approach to matrimony. Lexi is the breadwinner while Brad struggles to get his music career off the ground. He supports her by getting up early, fixing her coffee, and generally doing “wifely” duties around the house while she’s off working in a high-powered position for some unnamed company. The film opens on an average morning, but as soon as Lexi heads off to her job, it becomes clear that today is anything but normal. Brad is inundated with news of bombs going off all across the city, predominantly in Downtown LA and Beverly Hills and at LAX. He tries to call Lexi, but as she casually mentioned just prior to leaving, she forgot to charge her cell phone. He jumps in the car to go after her, only to find roadblocks obstructing his path and dire warnings on the radio for everyone to stay away from the affected areas.
Apparently these weren’t your run-of-the-mill explosives but instead were dirty bombs — just like the ones the powers-that-be have been warning us about since 9/11 — and unfortunately no one in authority can determine exactly what kind of chemicals were used. They only know that the resultant ash and soot blanketing the region contain a highly toxic viral contagion and the individuals who were exposed to it need to be quarantined. They also advise the citizens of outlying areas to seal themselves up in their residences and keep away from anyone who may have been at or near ground zero.
Having run out of options to track down Lexi, Brad decides to heed the warnings, and he and the neighbor’s stranded handyman Alvaro (Perez), who came to his door seeking shelter, barricade themselves in Brad and Lexi’s home and hang plastic over all the doors and windows to keep out the potentially lethal particles that are floating around the city. The power flickers on and off and all the local TV stations are knocked off the air, but soon things stabilize and they’re able to keep up with news reports via the stereo. Brad and Alvaro resign themselves to the fact that their beloved family members are most likely dead or dying as hospitals become overrun with the afflicted and a 24-hour curfew is imposed for the entire Los Angeles area. But then, out of nowhere, Lexi arrives home, and Brad is faced with a dilemma: Let her in and risk succumbing to some mysterious disease alongside her or leave her outside in the elements to possibly … probably … die alone. What’s a husband to do? Well, if you’re Brad, you choose option 2. The rest of the film spans the subsequent few days and revolves around the repercussions from his decision.
Honestly, I wouldn’t classify Right at Your Door as a horror film. Indeed it is horrific and makes for great conversation fodder once the credits have rolled, but it’s much more a domestic drama with interesting psychological nuances and some science fiction thrown in for good measure than a straight genre offering. Now, had the virus turned people into zombies or something along those lines, then I would wholeheartedly recommend it to our Dread Central readers. As is, it’s more geared toward fans of art house type flicks that explore social and political issues against the backdrop of a terrifying event. Also, if you like playing “what if that happened to us?” with your significant other, then you’ll probably dig it and get something out of it as well.
It undeniably helps if you can empathize with the characters and put yourself in their shoes. I am extremely familiar with McCormack from her work on “The West Wing” and “ER” so felt like I was watching a dear friend trapped in a tragic, no-win situation. Cochrane also is a TV regular on “CSI: Miami,” but I’ve never watched the show so have no connection to him, which is probably why I was rooting more for Lexi than Brad. But both actors equally and ably convey the dire and complex nature of their circumstances. The story unfolds much like a play so be prepared for an intimate, at times claustrophobic look at a large-scale catastrophe told through the eyes of one couple affected by it rather than an effects-laden action thriller about the collapse of LA. While there is no Jack Bauer waiting in the wings to save the city, there is some awesome sound design that puts the viewer right in the middle of what’s happening onscreen.
Speaking of intimate, after going through the extras on the disc, you’re sure to feel quite a close bond with writer/director Chris Gorak as he comprises the bulk of them. First up is a commentary with Gorak and British magazine writer David Hughes in a question/answer format. This sort of commentary is becoming more and more common, and in most cases, including this one, it helps keep opportunities for boredom to a minimum. Gorak’s enthusiasm for the project is obvious and contagious. I found myself enjoying it even more the second time around thanks to his remarks, but it still wasn’t enough to camouflage the film’s shortcomings. Next are two featurettes starring — you guessed it! — Chris Gorak. “Forearm Shiver” is an almost half-hour interview in which he breaks down just about every aspect of Right at Your Door from (a) the transition of the original idea to script form to (b) the actors and their approach to the characters to (c) the shooting process, etc. Not hearing from any of the cast members is a big disappointment. As a result, the most interesting part of the whole thing is the meaning behind the term forearm shiver in relation to the film. “Film School” is full of tips from Gorak to would-be filmmakers on how to go about bringing their own ideas to fruition. Lastly are two alternate endings in script form. Definitely the best of the bunch made it into the finished product. It’s all good stuff but somewhat repetitive to sit through one after the other. I’d say take a night or two off from watching the film with the commentary and then revisit the rest of the DVD.
If it’s a bit hard to tell from this review what my overall opinion of Right at Your Door is, it’s because I’m still not completely sure myself. I liked it, but something was lacking, resulting in my remark about its shortcomings above. Maybe it’s just too much an LA story. The constant references to “toxic” substances seem a heavy-handed reminder of how tainted that city has become — both environmentally and with regard to interpersonal relationships within its various communities. It’s not a cliché that it’s called Hell-A. But mostly I never really felt invested in Brad and Lexi as a couple. There’s bound to be a lot simmering below the surface as a result of the skewed balance of power in their marriage, but none of that is touched upon. It was downright annoying to sit there watching them avoid discussing all the things that one would think a couple in their predicament would feel necessary and important to convey to each other. Plus, Brad seems incapable of making eye contact with anyone — not Alvaro and certainly not Lexi. Another example of the stereotypical Los Angeleno who is all surface and no depth? Perhaps.
Sadly, it’s also how I’ve ultimately come to define Right at Your Door itself. It gives us a great setup but not much in the way of payoff despite its go for broke ending. Nonetheless, I’m anxious to see what Mr. Gorak has up his sleeve for the next time. He has an awesome pedigree (i.e., Production Designer on Lords of Dogtown and The Clearing and Art Director on such diverse films as Fight Club, The Man Who Wasn’t There, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), and if what he accomplished with this, his first feature, is any indication, he’s for sure someone to keep a very keen eye on in the future.
3 1/2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5
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