"Right at Your Door" is an exercise in total gut-punch dread, a harrowing what-if? yarn that amps up the tension beyond the breaking point. As a story, it's about twice as long as it should be, but as a horror experience, it's just about right.
The film is a tale of modern day terror, with dirty bombs set off all over Los Angeles one morning. Chaos erupts, news reports are incomplete, law enforcement is in a panic. We see all of this through the eyes of Brad (Rory Cochrane), an everyman who just moved to L.A. with his wife, Lexi (Mary McCormack) - a wife who, by the way, just left for downtown shortly before the attacks and hasn't been seen since. At first he tries to drive into town, and when his attempts are blocked, he finds himself back at home, where he finds a handyman (Tony Perez) seeking shelter from the fallout. Together, they dutifully follow government orders to seal up the house with that old standby, duct tape and plastic sheeting.
These opening minutes are a mini-masterpiece of utter horror, with writer/director Chris Gorak pushing everything forward at a manic pace, and with composers Tom Hajdu and Andy Milburn (credited under their "tomandandy" moniker) delivering a musical score that buries itself under the viewer's skin, never allowing for a second's relief. Gorak, a former production designer making his directorial debut here, brings an exceptional visual flair to the anarchy of these early scenes, and he's able to hide the film's low budget around smart, tight camera work and low-key effects that never once allow us to doubt the situation. For about twenty minutes, this is brilliant storytelling.
Then we reach the heart of the story: Lexi shows up, coughing and weezing. Brad has already sealed off the house. Should he let her in and risk infecting himself and the handyman? Should he be a good citizen and follow the authorities' orders to not let anyone inside? It's a cold, dark morality stumper, and while it's easy to criticize Brad for standing firm and refusing to help his own wife, it's also deeply, disturbingly true that many of us just might do the very thing we wouldn't dare think we would.
By this point, Gorak has hit all the points he possibly can with such a scenario. If this were a short film, he could wrap it up with one or two quick scenes, make his point, and call it a day. But he's working at feature length here, and he still has over half the movie to go. And so "Right at Your Door" runs out of steam, on a story level if not on a visceral one. The film never loses its stressful tone, and there are moments that keep the "what would you do?" fires stoked, but it also finds itself in the troublesome spot of wearing too thin too early.
Gorak does what he can to keep things moving, offering up little story cheats like bringing in a little boy (Scotty Noyd, Jr.) into the mess. Later, visits from biohazard suit-clad cops provide a quick jolt of paranoia and fear, but these scenes tend to hit all wall of redundancy; like the frequent arguments between Lexi and Brad, the arguments between Brad and the cops devolve into a back-and-forth yelling match that are too repetitive for their own good.
Then comes the finale. With a story like this, one that's all premise, Gorak writes himself into a corner. No ending could possibly be satisfactory (except, perhaps, a quiet no-resolution fade out), but Gorak winds up giving us one of the weakest of his options. The ending here is too sly for its own good, a clunky attempt to remind us that authority figures don't have a clue what they're doing. It's a little bit of "see what I did there?" from the writer. This movie needs something far more low key, as opposed to this ending, which hopes to rattle us not by unnerving us, but by shaking us around while winking at us.
And yet. Ah, yes, and yet. Despite this, "Right at Your Door" remains a very good film, a prime example of mood triumphing over flawed story. Gorak's direction is tense and slick, and his cast delivers fine performances that enhance the unnerving experience. It's a testament to all involved that they manage to keep things running long after the well runs dry.
Video & Audio
"Right at Your Door" looks stunning in this anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer. It's a surprise to learn that the film was shot on Super 16mm film, as it looks much sleeker than the lower-grade film stock would suggest. Dark colors are deep and rich, and a few washed-out minutes are in tune with the director's preferred look, as is any grain or softness that pops up with minor frequency.
The terrific Dolby 5.1 soundtrack shows off the film's busy sound design, which packs the speakers with all sorts of pandemonium - news reports, sirens, musical score, etc. The dialogue never gets overwhelmed by all this commotion. A Dolby 2.0 track is also included, as are optional English and Spanish subtitles.
Gorak teams with David Hughes of Empire Magazine for a laid back commentary track. The conversation is informative but overly dry, and working through it becomes a bit of a slog.
"Forearm Shiver: An Interview with Chris Gorak" (25:44) gives us more of the filmmaker's quiet demeanor. Here, Gorak runs down the story origins and production fare. "Film School: Tips on Making an Independent Film with Chris Gorak" (14:34) continues this interview, with Gorak discussing how he broke into the business, and offering advice for aspiring filmmakers. Like the commentary, both interviews are informative but delivered in a dreary monotone.
"Alternate Ending Scripts" allow the chance to click through, page by page, two earlier drafts of the final scene. These drafts are mostly the same as what wound up on screen, so don't expect revolutionary changes.
A collection of previews for other Lionsgate titles rounds out the set. The trailers also play as the disc loads.
"Right at Your Door" would have been a perfect short film, a quick-and-dirty thriller in the "Twilight Zone" tradition. At a full 95 minutes, there's just too much for Gorak to support. And yet as a pure chiller, it succeeds. Recommended.