The Ultimate What If…

right-at-your-door.jpgFilms are the great hypothetical (forgive the Shaquille O’Neal analogy). We can easily ask of any character in a film, “What if I was in that situation?” Thus, one of the many benefits of a more inquisitive filmwatching is a greater sense of empathy for “the Other.”  Such filmwatching also leads us to examine our own lives further and can potentially help us for future difficulties. A new film, Right at Your Door, directed by Chris Gorak (who worked on Minority Report, Lords of Dogtown, and Fight Club and makes his first directorial effort here), fulfills this latter role.

Right at Your Door is set in modern day Los Angeles where several “dirty bombs” have just exploded, releasing harmful toxins into the atmosphere. Through radio news voice-overs, we hear that downtown L.A. is in hysterics and people have died from both the explosions and the ensuing panic. Rather than focusing in on the blasts, Gorak takes a peripheral view and examines a young couple who live in the suburbs. On the morning of the attack, Brad (Rory Cochrane of Dazed and Confused fame) sees his wife, Lexi (Mary McCormack, 1408) off to work. Lexi gets caught in the chaos of the explosions and returns home. In the meantime, Brad learns from the news that everyone must seal all doors and windows in their home to prevent contamination. He reluctantly does so but must face the dilemma of a lifetime when Lexi returns. Will he let her in or not?

Gorak employs a guerilla style filmmaking which is constantly on the move (even when confined inside the house) and mainly composed of medium and close up shots of the two main actors to maintain the tension of the plot. While several critics complain about the film’s repetitiveness, I would argue that it simply mirrors the news reports that serve as the film’s soundtrack. We are increasingly familiar with news stations that obsess over a story for days on end without ever providing new or relevant information. Gorak also refuses to assign blame for the attacks and keeps his focus on the individual responses of Lexi and Brad. Moreover, despite the repeated use of “dirty bombs” terminology, we could also view this as a cataclysmic accident. Taking this latter approach, the film could serve as a critique of our disaster response teams or our preparedness for such an event. The two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, today, makes such a viewing especially relevant. Unfortunately, Gorak’s prognosis is not good. Yet if we return to the terrorist possibility, we could examine Brad and Lexi’s dilemma as an examination of a country’s foreign policy.

While Lexi’s character can grate on our nerves, the film is strengthened by Rory Chochrane’s convincing performance of a husband in his greatest dilemma. The friend with whom I watched the film could not help but ask as soon as we left the theater, “What would you do?” The questions kept rolling:  what should authorities have done…what should Lexi have done?

On another level, I feel that this film embodies a strength of British filmmakers that I have noticed and been thinking about lately, namely their ability to create moving, (post)apocalyptic films. I have been thinking of 28 Days Later (albeit in the horror genre), Dead Man’s Shoes (certainly not apocalyptic on a large scale but perhaps on an individual one), and now Right at Your Door. Hopefully, I will work on this topic in greater detail soon.

Right at Your Door (96 mins) is currently in theaters and rated R for pervasive language and some disturbing violent content.