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DVD SAVANT

Right At Your Door


Right At Your Door
Lionsgate
2006 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic widescreen / 96 min. / Street Date January 29, 2008 / 27.98
Starring Mary McCormack, Rory Cochrane
Cinematography Tom Richmond
Production Design Ramsey Avery
Art Direction Patricio M. Farrell
Film Editor Jeffrey M. Werner
Original Music tomandandy
Produced by Jonah Smith, Palmer West
Written and Directed by Chris Gorak

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, 1989's Miracle Mile became the last of the Cold War nuclear threat movies; no longer were intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed and ready to strike with only thirty minutes' notice. Right At Your Door revives those anxious thrills with a reasonably credible post- 9/11 scenario. An unidentified conspiracy has chosen the morning rush hour to detonate scores of dirty bombs in the Los Angeles area. Sticking close to the subjective experience of one terrorized citizen, writer-director Chris Gorack doesn't need Computer Generated Imagery to keep our nerves on edge. We've all entertained daydreams of how one might cope with an apocalyptic crisis in the middle of millions of desperate people, and the small-scale Right At Your Door brings one such nightmare to life.

Synopsis:

Unemployed musician Brad (Rory Cochrane) helps his businesswoman wife Lexi (Mary McCormack) off to work in downtown L.A.. She's only a few minutes away from their Echo Park home when the radio news is interrupted by alarming reports of multiple explosions in key city locations, including downtown. Brad panics and tries to leave the neighborhood, only to find that the police have blocked off all the streets. Smoke rises from downtown skyscrapers and suspicious ashes begin to fall ... ashes that might carry radioactivity or biological poisons. Alvaro, a neighbor's gardener (Tony Perez) goads Brad into following instructions and sealing off his windows and doors with plastic and duct tape. The radio reports that the blasts may indeed be a biological attack and warn homeowners against admitting anyone who has been in a contaminated area. That's when Lexi shows up, coughing and covered with white ash. Instead of being overjoyed that his wife is alive, Brad locks her out, telling her he can't let her in until he's sure she's not a deadly threat.

Sometimes the War on Terror seems to consist only of vague "stay on alert but don't be alarmed" announcements from the department of Homeland Security. Atomic Bombs were always terror weapons but in this age of advanced weaponry we're frequently warned that an attack might come in a sophisticated biological or chemical form. The post- 9/11 thriller scenarios aren't much different from those made during the Cold War. "Evil" Chinese Commies dig tunnels to plant bombs under our cities in the cartoonish Battle Beneath the Earth and special agent Howard Duff must neutralize a home-made nuke in L.A. in 1968's Panic in the City. Closer to modern fears is 1965's The Satan Bug, in which deadly viruses are stolen from a secret lab by a madman who wants to murder all of humanity.

The terror threat in Right At Your Door is restricted to a much more personal level. Frightened Brad can only sit at home and listen to the contradictory information he's hearing over the radio. We feel Brad's helplessness as he sees the smoke downtown (practically the film's only special effect). All he can do is attempt to seal off his house from the poisoned air blowing his way.

Right At Your Door is a low budget effort produced on the scale of a deluxe Twilight Zone episode, which it resembles in structure. There are no large scenes of panic or destruction, and viewers expecting spectacle will be disappointed. The film instead seeks to replicate what it might be like to be stuck in one's home watching as disaster closes in on every side.

By and large, Gorak's film is successful. Rory Cochrane is appropriately traumatized and poor Mary McCormack spends most of the film covered with white ash and coughing her lungs out. The characterizations are credible; househusband Rory feels particularly powerless when he realizes that his wife is the one caught in the panic of major explosions downtown. The film does at times seem overly claustrophobic, with much of its tension provided by radio announcements of disaster scenes we never see. Rory's one attempt to drive to the rescue is halted by the cops, who block off streets and shoot a man who doesn't cooperate. Their only orders are to go home.  1

Cold, scared and locked out of her own house, Lexi screams obscenities at her husband for not letting her in. She eventually accepts the situation, and helps a friend take a little lost boy to an emergency hospital. Again, we only hear about the panic and confusion through second hand accounts. Rory and Lexi exchange nervous talk through the heavy plastic sheeting with which he's sealed the house, waiting for instructions from the authorities... or for unknown symptoms to take effect. When 'help' does arrive it's in the form of armed, biohazard-suited soldiers. They refuse to answer questions, while asking scary questions of their own that make Rory suspect that his well-being is not high on their list of priorities.

Right At Your Door concludes with a rather arbitrary Rod Serling-style twist, that works well enough when one realizes that few movies of this kind manage a satisfying ending. We don't learn much detail about the attacks. The main message imparted is that in a calamity of this size, individual citizens are going to be in a lot of trouble.

Chris Gorak maximizes his resources and minimizes the effect of the film's claustrophobic, one-house setting. The genuinely chilling rain of ash coats Rory's yard like a potentially lethal gray carpet. The film's few effect shots are very convincing angles showing the downtown L.A. skyline with multiple fires and plumes of smoke. That particular image no longer needs explanation. The editing is good and the actors are completely credible. All that's lacking is something extra in the writing to make us care about the main characters a bit more ... the docudrama format is a bit on the cold side.


Lionsgate's DVD of Right At Your Door comes in a good enhanced transfer, with a sharp image and good color. The DD audio has 5.1 or 2.0 options, and subs are included in Spanish and English.

Director Gorak contributes an audio commentary and is profiled in two featurettes. He explains how he jumped to directing from art direction and production design. One of the featurettes is chaptered in the format of a film school primer, as Gorak passes along what he's learned. Another extra compiles several scripted alternate endings for the film, none of which sound as satisfying as the one it has.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Right At Your Door rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Commentary, 2 Featurettes, text script endings.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: February 14, 2008

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.

Footnote:

1. Having weathered the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, I sympathized with 'Brad' in this film. Advised to go home early on the first day, I locked up the house and followed the riots on television. At one point I could see fires burning to the South, East and West, simultaneously. Told to stay off the streets, and knowing that a call to the police would be pointless, we passed some fairly tense days. Actually, the only detail in Right At Your Door that didn't convince were the scenes of police cars blocking streets in Brad's neighborhood ... during the L.A. Riots, the L.A.P.D. simply disappeared, abandoning the city to the vandals, gunmen and arsonists. We have so few policemen per capita here, that in any citywide emergency they'd be stretched far too thinly.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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