Sunday, 21 January 2007

Right At Your Door (2006)

Right At Your Door

Right at Your Door should, based on all the British reviews ( which were extremely favourable), have been right up my street: A small independent film with solid acting, a very small cast, and subject matter to make you think.

Unfortunately the film is lacking one key ingredient: credibility. Too often one is taken out of the movie because of the ridiculousness of things that happen, with the 'twist' ending being more silly than the silliest thing on the planet 'Verysillyindeed'! Right at Your Door has a script with potential, but it feels like a 30 minute short film that's been stretched way beyond the time it needed, and the low budget is far too much in evidence throughout. Fast cutting and quick-jerk camera movements can't disguise the fact that this film is an interesting idea, with 80% 'nothing at all is actually happening' padding.

Right at Your Door screencap

Rory Cochrane, fresh from A Scanner Darkly (just released on DVD, and which I'll be posting about next weekend), plays Brad, a stay-at-home musician married to Lexi, played by Mary McCormack, perhaps best known for her role in the under-achieving but superb Murder One TV series. Lexi is the bread winner, and while she's away in downtown Los Angeles a series of 'dirty' bombs go off. Lexi spends the first half hour of the film trying to get to his wife who isn't answering her cell phone, but finds himself thwarted by officials who are trying to cordon off the area because of the toxic ash in the air. Miraculously Lexi makes her way back to the couple's home, but she's infected, ill and dying and Brad decides he can't risk letting her into the now-sealed off house because that would jeapordise his own life.

The basic idea of a dying partner locked out by a living one has potential, but the way the situation is presented just shouts 'We had no money so we had to shoot a film that looks like this' at you. Brad apparently has no TV that works so the only 'news' of the unfolding scenario we get is through endless, and somewhat unconvincing, radio bulletins. The time between the bomb going off and cops turning up in the suburbs to block the one minor road Brad decides to use, despite there being virtually no traffic in the area, is ridiculously short. It seems that the authorities can not only determine something is toxic and slowly killing people within seconds of a bomb going off, but issue viral protection suits, shoot down citizens that might be infected trying to make their way home, and start sealing off houses within minutes too. Too silly!

Things don't improve when, after being unable to use her phone but somehow managing to get past the roadblocks Brad has had so much trouble with, Lexi arrives home. The actress' performance can't be faulted, but her shouting, aggressive attitude, the way she acts, and the dialogue she has to deliver, just don't ring true, particularly when she then suddenly goes through a complete transformation, accepts her situation and only wants to do the right thing by Brad.

When the army appear on the scene with their mysterious red 'contaminated' signs and Nazi-like behaviour and speech, any believability goes completely out the window, and one is forced to ask the question 'Who thought this would make a great, believable 100 minute movie?'.

The hand-held, mostly 'real time documentary' style, works well for the material, so long as you can cope with the MTV-style jump-cuts to artificially inject a sense of urgency, but setting the whole thing pretty much in one very small house, primarily reliant on one actor speaking to another unseen actor, does not make for a thrilling experience, even if the intended effect of claustrophobia is achieved. The dull, dark picture looks cheap and low budget before the film's really started, and the desaturation that occurs once the bombs have gone off, to emphasise the new ash-infected world make the film look even more low budget and cheap.

On the positive side, the acting from both leads is excellent, with a particularly draining performance from Rory Cochrane. The minimal special effects shots of the city in smoke in some backgrounds work well too. But one just comes away frustrated at the waste of a good idea with the talent and resources that were seemingly available. Ultimately films succeed or fail based on the script - and this is a script that just didn't go through enough rewrites.

Right at Your Door screencap

Because of the low budget, the picture quality is never really any better than low budget TV, although this is undoubtedly down to the quality of the original film and not the transfer. It's possible to make gripping film with just two actors and one small location (see Hard Candy, The 24th Day or even Phone Booth for good examples), but you need a solid, believable script and this film needed a lot more polish before cameras were committed. Sound is fine and the music appropriate, but with such a low budget this was never going to be a surround sound demo disc.

The extra's are a one-man show. Director/Writer Chris Gorak gives an edited solo 25-minute talking head interview about the film and his influences in Forearm Shiver, and a separate solo 25-minute talking head featurette recorded at the same time has him talking about Tips on Making an Independent Film, which will be of interest to budding film-makers, although even to this outsider it seemed to be pretty much a case of 'stating the bleeding obvious'.

The Commentary Track thankfully brings in an Empire magazine writer to ask questions, which makes for a fairly interesting commentary track, although all the main points made in the featurette are needlessly repeated. My advice would be to listen to the commentary track and ignore the featurette.

Right at Your Door has received as much exposure in the British media as a major Hollywood release, and so it's disappointing to have to report this time around that the underdog really should have stayed the underdog. While one can admire the acting talent on display, the ending only exaggerates the feeling that this film is one heck of a downer from start to finish. It has all the trademarks of a writer writing himself into a corner and then inventing a silly 'shock' ending to try and force some kind of artificial resolution. This one's a rental, not a purchase - and then only if you've exhausted the rest of the week's excellent releases.

Right at Your Door screencap

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