Starring Pat Healy, Vinessa Shaw, and Sierra McCormick
Written by Max Booth III
Directed by Sean King O’Grady
If Pyewacket and It Comes at Night were to somehow get together– maybe in a bar, maybe at a festival afterparty hosted by Variety– and decide to have a child together, it might look something like We Need to Do Something. Well, it would probably look a lot like We Need to Do Something. Sean King O’Grady’s directorial debut based on the novella by (and written by) Max Booth III is a chaotic, sinister, dangerous, and unapologetically unhinged genre showcase punctuated by strong performances, a wicked sense of humor, and a creeping, enveloping sense of unknown fear it becomes almost contagious. Paranoia seeps over the perimeter of the screen, out of frame and into the audiences’ minds. One of the year’s most audacious and terrifying debuts, We Need to Do Something is independent genre filmmaking at its most daring and rewarding.
Teenage punk princess Melissa (Sierra McCormick), her brother, Bobby (John James Cronin), her mother, Diane (Vinessa Shaw), and father, Robert (Pat Healy) seek shelter in a fantastically anachronistic mid-century bathroom as a storm approaches. Everyone comforts one another with fake assurances that the impending storm is not, in fact, a tornado. Everyone, of course, except for Melissa. Melissa senses something else in the air, and when a tornado does land and a backyard tree blocks the family’s only means of escape, the worst of her fears might very well be confirmed.
We Need to Do Something is stripped down, ambiguous filmmaking in the purest form. Entirely set in the bathroom save for a smattering of flashback vignettes to Melissa and her witchy, Hocus Pocus girlfriend, Amy (Lisette Alexis), O’Grady deliberately, perversely restricts the audience POV. The It Comes at Night parallels are not for nothing– fans of comprehensive, absolute filmmaking will walk away disappointed. Disembodied voices and prowling, behemoth-sized menace fills the periphery, yet the audience, much like the family, remains in the dark. In fact, audiences see even less than they do, a deliberately restrictive vantage point that heightens the suffocating tension as the family grapples with what, or whom, has trapped them in the bathroom.
Piled on top are conventional domestic grievances, arguably one of the movie’s only missteps. Healy and Shaw, both genre veterans themselves, sell the marital tension with grindhouse bravado, imbuing their characters with more wit and charm than the pedestrian strife actually deserves. Healy’s Robert drinks and Shaw’s Diane has likely had an affair, though beyond that, the audience knows little about what’s made their marriage so toxic or, moreover, why they’re still together in the first place.
The conflict, though, is a springboard for the horrors outside the walls, and on that front, Booth and O’Grady deliver. We Need to Do Something is a nasty, violent, uncompromising slice of less-is-more horror, the kind that begs questions while offering enough conventional genre thrills to satisfy naysayers. It poses sundry questions, and while the answers are frighteningly unclear– the old adage of what we don’t see being scarier than what we do remains firmly true here– the horrors we do see are otherworldly, a hybrid of grounded tension and occult mayhem.
Snakes, beheaded animals, squirming tongues, and this year’s scariest voice beyond the door upend audience expectations, burrowing their way into the audiences most primal fears of fractured families and apocalyptic mayhem. Satanic panic by way of “It’s 10pm, do you know where your children are,” We Need to Do Something is no less terrifying than the nationwide stranglehold stranger danger and burning effigies, however unfounded, had over the country four decades ago.
Conscientious and riotously funny references– including perhaps the best use of Rick Astley in a movie, well, ever– add enough distinct characterization and texture to overshadow some of the more familiar beats. We Need to Do Something is deliberately paced, a molasses drip of suggestion and horrific insinuation. While it’s never entirely clear what’s happening, it retains a firm enough grip around the audience’s throat to not matter much in the end. The characters need to do something– anything– yet the audience remains chillingly still. Slowly yet surely, We Need to Do Something slithers its way into the audiences’ minds, and by the end, it will leave them breathless.
Unhinged, chaotic, and abounding with occult chills, We Need to Do Something is poised to be one of 2021’s most ambiguous yet enduringly frightening horror debuts.