Sunday, April 6, 2008

“Am I dead?”

In a bizarre and convoluted connection to the Southland Tales experiment, this post will be about a movie called Right At Your Door. When I rented Southland Tales, I also tried to rent Kill the Moonlight. The video store didn’t have it, so instead I rented Southlander. I had seen Southlander before and it was the closest thing to Kill the Moonlight I could think of (prompting the guy at the video store to say, “You’re all about the Southland, aren’t you?”). Southlander stars Rory Cochrane (remember him? Lucas from Empire Records and the über-stoner from Dazed and Confused?), who is also the star of Right At Your Door. Maybe not a big deal, but seriously, when was the last time you watched a movie with Rory Cochrane?

Right At Your Door is a taut, low budget thriller, featuring Cochrane as Brad and Mary McCormack as Lexi; a young, newly married couple living in Los Angeles, Brad being the struggling out of work musician who is being supported by the more professional Lexi. One bright, sunny, LA morning, Brad dutifully prepares his wife’s coffee, warms the shower for her, and even listens to the morning news to catch the traffic report for her morning commute. She begrudgingly gets up, showers, and just before she leaves, Brad warns her to take the side streets into downtown, since the highways are all jammed. Everything pretty much goes downhill from there.

Shortly after Lexi leaves the radio is interrupted with an emergency report. Terrorists have set off bombs all around downtown LA. After some frantic calling, Brad sets out to go and find his wife. He quickly discovers that getting anywhere near downtown is impossible, as the police are blocking all roads. The radio reports that the bombs were dirty, lacing the billowing smoke with some kind of unidentified hybrid toxin. Brad grabs as much duct tape as he can carry and rushes back home to wait for word from his wife.

Upon arriving home, Brad resumes his frantic calling until he is interrupted by his neighbors’ handyman, Alvaro. With the roads blocked, Alvaro can’t get home and pleads with Brad to let him stay. Brad relents, and as the swelling clouds of smoke and ash spread over the city, Alvaro convinces Brad to begin sealing the house before the toxins reach their neighborhood. Shortly after they finish, a panic stricken Lexi arrives at the door. What ensues is a slow, tense, emotionally devastating sstory, as Brad and Lexi are forced to deal with the realization that she has been infected, and he can’t let her in.

Right At Your Door amounts to 30 minutes of fast-paced, frantic confusion followed by a slow-burning 60 minutes of watching the couple deal with their tragic situation. The film relies heavily on, and makes good use of, the rampant confusion following the attacks. The radio news that plays almost constantly throughout the film disseminates bits and pieces of vague and contradictory news, facts, and conjecture. Authority in the abstract becomes the savior, while any appearance of actual authority inspires skepticism and fear.

Over all, the film is good. Great at times, and frustrating at others. The biggest problem is that the filmmakers don’t seem to know where the narrative tension lies. The fear of authority and the appearance of the military sometimes distracts from the real tension of watching Brad watching his wife slowly dying in their backyard. The confusion caused by the media and the distrust of authority can, at times, turn pretty hackneyed. And the ending, while not unnatural, does seem unnecessary.

Those problems aside, Right At Your Door is a well made, tense, and emotionally devastating film. The acting by McCormack is serviceable, but Cochrane is great. Large amounts of time are spent watching him anxiously pacing around his house or sitting distraughtly next to his wife, separated by a thin sheet of plastic. A difficult task for an actor, and Cochrane makes it work. There are solid visuals, such as a quiet moment of watching the toxic ash falling gracefully on the neighborhood, looking like a gentle and beautiful snowfall.

The film belies its low budget nature through good acting, solid cinematography, and a tense story constructed around a single location. It can be a difficult task to set a movie in a single place with a limited cast (see 90% of movies adapted from plays), but Right At Your Door does an admirable job. It is a tense film about choices, both rational and irrational, and dealing the inevitable consequences of those choices.


Brad said...

I don't know, brother man. This doesn't sound like any movie I'd want to see. Unless I'm incorrectly reading some shades of meaning here, I'd really not enjoy watching a man watching his wife die. There isn't an epiphany large enough to make me wade through what sounds like an excruciating (even sadistic) set of circumstances.

Last week I watched Dirty Dancing, though, which I thought was pretty good in parts.

Scott said...

Yeah, there is no grand statement about the human condition or anything like that. It is a painful movie to watch without any real pay-off, but I enjoyed it all the same. If it doesn't sound good after reading the entry, it's probably not going to be worth watching.

Dirty Dancing, huh? I somehow doubt that it was good in any parts. Except, of course, that song Patrick Swayze does for the soundtrack. And the "no one puts baby in the corner" line. Okay, maybe it is good in parts.