Right at Your Door (US - DVD R1)
Gabe hears an explosion, takes a step outside, and then breathes in deeply...
Struggling and unemployed musician Brad (Rory Cochrane) and his breadwinning girlfriend Lexi (Mary McCormack) have recently moved to a new neighbourhood in Los Angeles. On this seemingly unremarkable morning Lexi heads off to work, and Brad sets himself for another afternoon of boredom and gear grinding. Then their routine is shattered when a series of dirty bombs explode in downtown LA, rocketing toxic clouds of ash all over the city. After failing to get a hold of Lexi, Brad follows the advice of his neighbour’s handyman and seals the house with his wife outside. Then Lexi comes home, covered in ash and still alive.
The paranoia exploiting thriller is a proud film tradition going back to the beginning of the medium. Chemical warfare has enjoyed a seat around the top ten of the world population’s fear list for generations, and saw a healthy resurgence during the as yet unsolved anthrax attacks of 2001, which continued as a part of the various ‘unspecific’ terrorist threats of the years that followed (remember, duct tape and garbage bags are your friends). Writer/director Chris Gorak’s film, Right at Your Door, seems to arrive about two years too late to fully exploit the public’s dirty bomb apprehensions, but as Hollywood have studios discovered with the releases of producer J.J. Abrams’ low-fi monster movie Cloverfield, and director Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds remake before that, the public’s fearful fascination with 9/11 is not yet satiated.
Right at Your Door’s opening act twists the paranoia screws tightly, hinging mostly on Rory Cochrane’s authoritative performance, which is effectively realistic without devolving into hysterics. The chaos is told from his point of view, which is placed outside of the actual action of the terrorist attack. This is very clever from a budget standpoint, and dealing with a massive catastrophe without showing it specifically is a refreshing changeup from Hollywood disaster saturation. But this approach isn’t anything new—George Romero did it in 1968 when he made Night of the Living Dead (and his horror follow-up, The Crazies covered a lot of the same man-made infectious agent bases).
Right at Your Door doesn’t utilize the ‘tell not show’ concept entirely ineffectively, but it stretches itself thin very quickly without a lot of pay off. The small ensemble of actors and limited sets is similar to a stage show, but not so much to the film’s advantage. So much time is spent describing things that have happened off screen that the concept becomes somewhat of a parody. At a certain point the fear begins to fade and the realization that this isn’t enough material to fill a feature length film begins to replace it (the extra features tell us the film originated as a short). New characters are introduced almost as quickly as they leave, and emotional speed bumps don’t quite produce results.
The padded film time and semi-parodic lack of on screen action is not remedied by the film’s impotent attempt at a shocking twist ending. I complain often about twist, but it’s not because I don’t like a good twist, it’s because I don’t like it when they serve no purpose beyond shock. This particular twist doesn’t serve the story beyond Twilight Zone level irony, and it cheapens this otherwise pointedly ‘classy’ horror film.
Right at Your Door means to look rough, and it does. The film won an award at Sundance for its cinematography, which is nice and realistic with a healthy spritzing of stylization, sort of hyper real. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen frame is quite grainy at times, one assumes on purpose, but the compression noise is distressing. The detail levels are respectable, but edge enhancement is pretty brutal, a common side effect for lower budgeted movies made on film rather then digital HD. Most of the lighting is of the natural kind, and the film’s less stylized scenes are a little too dark. Overall this is a decent video release that wears the symptoms of its budget and style respectably.
The back of the box lists the sound options as Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0, but playback calls the 5.1 track an EX track. The EX isn’t really very impressive, but the sound design is quite minimalist. The surround channels only really spring to life during the film’s music, but incidental sound effects are reasonably powerful during the outdoor and home attack scenes. The dialogue is clear, centred and natural, though the film’s many radio broadcasts (an element taken directly from Romero’s Night of the Living Dead) have an artificial sheen, always sounding post-produced rather than part of the scene. A small complaint, but a valid one.
For a film that received basically zero theatrical release in the States, this disc is pretty well stocked, especially considering Lionsgate’s barebones approach to minor releases. Things start with writer/director Chris Gorak’s commentary track, where he is joined by Empire magazine writer David Hughes. The Gorak’s overall tone is lethargic, but he does cover the bases, including a few pointers on how to pull together a professional looking feature from a rather meagre budget (by Hollywood terms, of course). Hughes is a nice addition, and spends his time prying healthy bites info from Gorak, rather then acting too much as a critic, though his preparation takes even Gorak by surprise at times. Between the two commentators there isn’t a lot of blank space on the track.
‘Forearm Shiver’ (a reference to the film’s original title) is an interview with Gorak, where he covers his post-9/11 inspirations, script writing, studio interest, casting, improvisation, multiple endings, budget problems, basically all the stuff he already covered during the commentary track. Gorak’s tone is again lethargic, and when coupled with his image the dude comes off as either very shy or a bit pretentious. It’s hard to read him. The interview footage is inter-spliced with film footage and runs about twenty-five minutes.
This is followed by a short ‘Film School’ with Gorak, where he offers his tips on how to make an independent film. He starts with how to break into the business, which in his case was as an intern. Then he worked his way up through special effects and production design on various Hollywood releases. If we are to work from his model, the final film will take about fifteen years to get to, but his points on absorbing the talents of others are very valid. Gorak touches upon the story writing process, the casting process, how to pitch a script (he had contacts, we probably don’t), but there isn’t any real focus on brass tacks filming processes in the under fifteen minute featurette, which is what I’m sure most of use were looking for.
The disc finishes off with text based script pages revealing two slightly alternate endings (Gorak alluded to four total in the commentary), and a whole bunch of Lionsgate trailers.
Well directed and well acted, Right at Your Door suffers from a stretched script, a distinct lack of stuff happening, and a cheap ironic twist ending. There’s nothing new or shocking here (in fact the story may already be two or three years too old), but the first act is very effective, and it looks pretty fantastic for such a cheap production. Worth a look if you find the concept particularly fascinating, otherwise just watch Night of the Living Dead or The Crazies again.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 29th January 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Director/Empire Magazine Writer Commentary,'Forearm Shiver', Film School Featurette, Alternative Ending Scripts, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Chris Gorak
Cast: Mary McCormack, Rory Cochrane, Tony Perez, Scotty Noyd Jr, Jon Huertas
Length: 92 minutes
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