RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR
Director/Screenwriter: Chris Gorak
Producers: Palmer West, Jonah Smith
Cast: Mary McCormack, Rory Cochrane
U.S.A., 2005, 90 min.
*With a finely honed craft and skill that belie its budget, Right at Your Door is a remarkable debut for its director, Chris Gorak. It begins on a beautiful, sunny morning in Los Angeles, where Brad (Rory Cochrane) has just kissed his wife, Lexi (Mary McCormack), off to work and started his day when the radio reports the detonation of a bomb. Announcements of additional explosions and an ominous, possibly toxic, cloud blowing ash across the L.A. basin quickly follow. With roads immediately closed off and phone contact elusive, Brad makes the decision to seal himself into his home, accomplishing the task with the assistance of a neighbor's handyman, Alvaro (Tony Perez), while awaiting his wife's return until . . .
Right at Your Door perfectly portrays the realities of this kind of attack - the isolation and fear, the panic, the frustration, and the media misinformation. When authority arrives, the anticipated help may, in fact, be anything but.
Gorak and his collaborators demonstrate a restraint and attention to detail that multiply the effect of both the personal and public crises. This is ambitious and accomplished storytelling, wonderfully conceived and executed, that stands apart from similarly themed, multimillion-dollar extravaganzas that have nowhere near the tension, thoughtfulness, and impact of this very independent feature.
*Summary by Geoffrey Gilmore, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
I was excited to see Right At Your Door, there was a good buzz going about the film and how it was made. The director had done a few interviews about how low a budget he was working on for a disaster picture. He talked about how he had saved up all his money to get those two or three money shots of downtown LA burning and then used small touches to suggest the process LA would go through in a biological terrorist attack. Small decisions, such as using the radio to broadcast what is happening in LA rather than use a television, saved thousands of dollars. Whatever corners he had to cut, the film is a success. It is a horrifying study of a husband and wife caught in the middle of tragedy, very dark, and unrelenting in its brutal ending. I liked the intimacy of the film, how even though the husband and wife are together, there is an enormous amount of strife that exists due to the fact that the husband is quarantined inside the house while the wife is trapped outside, subject to the biological hazards.
The film is crafted very carefully. A small film like this, with one main set, and three actors, can only keep the tension up for so long before the audience gets a little bored with the situation. However, in Right At Your Door, whenever the pace started to lag, a new and more horrifying predicament reveals itself to the couple and their neighbor. The filmmakers also managed to play with the unavoidable cliches of a situation such as this but fading to black whenever it appears as if we are just about to get a weepy confession from the couple or a nonsensical heroic gesture from the neighbor. There are a couple of moments where the filmmakers make a cliched moment touching, such as when the sick and doomed wife calls her brother and says good-bye. It is a arresting moment because the wife's parents can't just be there to talk to her. They are ordering her to look for shelters, to head out of town. The wife, having seen the barriers erected by the military, knows these suggestions are hopeless, and all she really wants is to talk to her parents about something else. Finally, she has to get off the phone with them and talk to her brother because at least he understands, at least for a short time, that all she wants is to hear his voice. The realism of that scene, the factual approach of the wife's parents, sells the emotion in a cliched telephone call, and it's wonderful to see that happen.
The actors are very good at playing their emotions and desperation, especially Mary McCormack as the increasingly frustrated, desperate, and depressed wife, trying to survive in a hopeless situation. All the camera moves and scene lighting look professional, as if far more money was spent on the look of the film than actually was.
As I stated before, the ending is a cruel and scary twist that feeds right into the atmosphere of fear and paranoia the filmmakers have been establishing. I found myself thinking of the decisions the husband made outside of the theater, wondering if he was right or wrong in the end, and how the wife would look at her actions in the days to come. This isn't the kind of film that gets 5 Groars for me, but that is just personal taste. For this type of low-budget disaster picture, it is hard to top the job done by the team who fashioned Right At Your Door.