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  • 15
  • Drama, Thriller
  • 2006
  • 96 mins

Right At Your Door

Right At Your Door

Synopsis

Chris Gorak's writing and directing debut offers a grim perspective on homeland insecurity in the post-9/11 era

About

Right At Your Door ought to have 'avoid' written all over it. Its domestic focus, its small-name cast, even its title all carry the heavy stench of a shlocky midday telemovie. Indeed at one point, the two main characters imagine a future for themselves on a TV chat show. Yet what elevates the film to the very top of the exploitation ladder, earning it a rightful place on the cinema screen, is its involving screenplay, convincing performances, claustrophobic camerawork and no-nonsense pacing. Once the film's scenario begins to unfold (and it happens with breathtaking speed), watching it in the 'comfort' of your own home will no longer seem so comfortable. It is not without significance that the first public service to stop working when the disaster hits is television.

It is an ordinary day in Los Angeles. As usual, Lexi (McCormack) has headed off downtown for work, and her unemployed husband Brad (Cochrane) is at home brushing his teeth, when suddenly the music on the radio is interrupted by an emergency broadcast. A series of explosions has rocked the city centre, and a vast toxic cloud is already making its way into the suburbs.

Unable to get Lexi on the phone, Brad drives off to look for her, but heads back home after seeing a policeman shoot a civilian dead merely on suspicion that he might be carrying the molecular infection. The whole city area is now under indefinite quarantine until scientists can work out the precise nature of the 'acutely fatal' agent that the bombs have released into the air. With Lexi incommunicado and probably dead, Brad follows the official advice on the radio, and, helped by the neighbour's handyman Alvaro (Perez), seals off all the house's entrances to prevent any contamination - but then Lexi turns up outside, covered in grey ash, violently coughing and wanting to come inside.

Dirty bombs, buildings showering debris, panic in the streets, mass evacuations, lethal dustclouds, frantic calls to loved ones, a sense of incredulity and paranoia - the word 'terrorism' may not feature in Right At Your Door any more than the word 'zombie' ever appeared in Night Of The Living Dead, but there is still little doubt what Chris Gorak's feature debut is about, or which contemporary fears it is tapping.

Gorak deftly lifts motifs from George A Romero's best political shockers (the house under siege from 1968's Night Of The Living Dead, the brutally contained virus from 1973's The Crazies), and then prods at all the most vulnerable parts of America's post-9/11 psyche in a manner far more arresting than Romero's disappointing Bush-whacker Land Of The Dead.

Like When The Wind Blows from 1986, Right At Your Door follows an everyday couple not knowing what to do in the face of overwhelming disaster. With everything restricted to Brad and Lexi's point of view, and mostly set in and around their house, the large-scale mayhem in the city is reduced to a few hurried glimpses through the window, and to an endless background barrage of radio reports that shift, with chilling plausibility, from initial confusion and horror to a more sinister tone of bland reassurance. ("It's all just one big public service announcement", as Brad comments.)

This vacuum of reliable information combines with the camera's confined perspective in such a way that the impossible moral dilemmas with which Brad and Lexi are confronted grip the viewer too, and with just as much immediacy. Would you let a complete stranger into your house, but hesitate to admit your own partner? Would you try to get help, or stay put as instructed? Would you trust a colleague whom you had previously considered a bit of a prick? Would you trust the authorities? And would you still trust them after they have left a red mark on your front door without explanation?

Right At Your Door is compelling and bleak, with a satisfying twist in its tail that, while harrowing, makes perfect sense. It is a film that realises our darkest imaginings of how both individuals, and a nation, might respond to a catastrophe that makes the events of 9/11, 7/7 or Hurricane Katrina look very minor league. Watch it, and feel the terror rise and choke like a cough that just won't go away.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Tony Perez, Mary McCormack, Rory Cochrane, Scotty Noyd Jr, Max Kasch, David Richards, John Huertas
  • Director: Chris Gorak
  • Screen Writer: Chris Gorak
  • Producer: Palmer West, Jonah Smith
  • Photographer: Tom Richmond
  • Composer: tomandandy

In a nutshell

An intimate disaster drama that gets under the skin like a virulent toxin.

by Anton Bitel

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