Right At Your Door

Sundance Film Festival 2006 (Dramatic Competition)–Not surprisingly, reflecting the tenor of our times, most of the films at the 2006 Sundance Film Fest, American and foreign, were dramas–and I mean heavy-duty dramas.

An attempt at an explicitly political subject matter, Chris Gorak's apocalyptic thriller “Right at Your Door,” one of this year's dramatic competition entries, poses a moral conundrum: If your wife (or companion) was contaminated in a dirty-bomb attack, would you let her (him) back into the house

That's the film's most promising premise, even if the ensuing text is undernourished and leaves a lot to be desired. In “Right at Your Door,” ambience and mood are all that matter.

“Right at Your Door” must have scared major distributors. It took a long time for the film to find a theatrical distributor, Roadside Pictures, which will release the picture 19 months after its Sundance premiere.

What begins as a routine day, sunny, warm, and beautiful, with small chat, coffee in bed (but no sex), shower, and farewell kiss, when wife Lexi (McCormack) leaves for work, while Brad stays in the house (Cochrane), turns out to be anything but routine.

When the radio reports the detonation of a bomb in L.A., Brad, hysterical, needs to know if Lexi is alive. Announcements of additional explosions and an ominous, possibly toxic, cloud blowing ash across the city basin quickly follow.

With roads immediately closed off and phone contact almost impossible, Brad decides to seal himself into his home, accomplishing the task with the assistance of a neighbor's handyman, Alvaro (Tony Perez). Busy at work, the two men hardly speak to each other.

Through eagerly waiting for Lexi to return, Brad fails to give an account to himself of what will happen if and when she does come back, which, of course, she does. Instinctively, the freaked out Brad refuses to let Lexi in and take a shower, which shocks his bewildered wife. Isn't he happy that she's just alive.

Then they begin to talk, or rather pose ideas and counter-ideas of how to deal with the situation. Gradually, while Los Angeles chokes outdoors, Gorak reduces his scenario to an intimate melodrama, with the husband and wife facing each other through a door or a window. It doesn't help that half of the action takes place at night, so you can't see much.

Problem is, we don't know much about the state of Brad and Lexi's marriage prior to the disaster, and thus we are not emotionally vested in them as characters.

The beginning is impressively ominous, setting up the premise vividly, with depiction of all the horror involved, and Gorak should be commended for recreating such apocalyptic horror with an arguably small budget.

But after the first reel, the yarn begins to lose steam, interest, and credibility. The middle chapters are repetitious and increasingly irritating, with the couple's endless bickering–kind of “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf” for the new millennium, a troubled union placed against a more overtly and horrific political context.

We are left wondering how a potentially profound and timely chronicle, that benefits from L.A. being in the daily news as strong potential for the next terrorists attack (after 9/11 World Trade Center), descends into irrelevance with the politics of destruction serving as an exterior, almost an excuse, for an anatomy of a marriage on the rocks.

Vastly underpopulated, the film is really a two-handler drama. Once the neighbor goes back home (to look for his missing wife), we're left with the couple and a little black boy, lost in the wilderness, waiting for his parents to pick him up. Is he the symbolic child that Brad and Lexi never had (at one point, the hubby says, “Let's talk about the children we never had”). How long have they been married Why don't they have kids Or friends, for that matter.

Occasionally, there are cell phone calls and messages from Lexi's mom, whose voice is heard but face unseen. “Right at Your Door” is a hysterical melodrama with no characters.

Making things worse is the unsympathetic portrayal of the husband and wife by Rory Cochrane and Mary McCormack, actors who have done good work in other films. Their interpretation makes both characters more self-absorbed and less appealing than they must have been in the screenplay. We never believe that they should have been together in the first place, and are conflicted, as they are, about their present–and future.

Unable to bridge the tensions between the political and the personal domains, Gorak opts for the latter. After squabbling for an hour through duct-taped plastic, the couple reaches the banal conclusion that they should have spent more quality time with each other.

Whether by design or not, the film's depiction of the city's authorities is also ambiguous. It's unclear, especially at the end, if the inspectors act responsibly or not; in some scenes, they come across as insensitive villains. The movie's very last image is also open to various interpretations.

Overall, Gorak acquits himself more honorably as a director than a writer. Having worked as a supervising art director on such high-profile and visionary films as “The Fight Club” and “Minority Report,” he is using his background to an advantage.

Ace lenser Tom Richmond has helped many indies look better than they really are–“Palindromes,” “Little Odessa,” “Killing Zoe”–to name just a few of his achievements. Here, Richmond's striking imagery of L.A. as a city under siege and on fire, particularly in the early chapters, makes “Right at Your Door” more watchable and intriguing than it has the right to be, considering how minimal, and narrow-minded the narrative is.

Cast

Lexi (Mary McCormack)
Brad (Rory Cochrane)
Alvaro (Tony Perez)
Timmy (Scotty Noyd Jr.)
Rick (Jon Huertas)

Credits

A Roadside Pictures release of a Thousand Words presentation.
Produced by Palmer West, Jonah Smith.
Co-producers, Jesse Johnston, Stephanie Lewis.
Directed, written by Chris Gorak.
Camera, Tom Richmond.
Editor, Jeffrey M. Werner.
Music, tomandandy.
Production designer, Ramsey Avery.
Art director, Patricio Farrell.
Set decorator, Stephanie DeSantis.
Costume designer, Rebecca Bentjen.
Sound, Gary Day.
Special effects supervisor, Pete Novitch.

Running time: 96 Minutes