While discussing which movies we should cover at FEARnet this month, I asked our friendly editor, "Hey what about this Right At Your Door flick? It played at Sundance '06, but I missed it. Lionsgate picked it up, and I've heard both good and bad about it." The response from the brass was "Hey, you're the writer. Watch the movie and if you think it's scary enough, write it up. If not, get busy on that Pumpkinhead 4 review." (As if Pumpkinhead 4 is even remotely scary.)
But hey, the scrappy indie that earned some nice attention on the festival circuit is just about to hit (limited) release this month -- and the rest of you will just have to wait for the DVD to show up. (All things considered, that's not necessarily a bad thing; although I definitely dug the movie, I wouldn't exactly call it a "big-screen
must-see." It may actually work better on the small screen.) And while the movie is a claustrophobic little low-budget experiment from a first-timer, it might be important to note that writer/director Chris Gorak once worked as an art director / production designer for people like Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Walter Hill, Terry Gilliam, and the Coen brothers. So at least you know he had some good teachers.
The story couldn't be much simpler: A series of horrible explosions has rocked Los Angeles -- and huge clouds of mega-toxic gas are spreading their way across the suburbs. Our entry into the chaos is a rather generic young married couple. Lexi (Mary McCormack) heads off to work just like any other day, while Brad (Rory Cochrane) stays home and thinks about doing some writing -- and then the emergency broadcast siren kicks in and all hell breaks loose. And this is how you can tell that Gorak knows what he's doing: Clearly lacking the budget (and/or the
desire) to show off any big-time mega-mayhem, the director opts for a much more "up close and personal" approach. As in: If your own city was (god forbid) nailed with a poisonous bomb, this is probably what YOUR day would look like. Most of the movie deals with Brad stuck inside his sealed home while Lexi struggles with infection on the back porch ... but the flick also has a few unexpected surprises up its sleeve.
And I found it pretty darn spooky, although moreso in a darkly speculative way and not in a "BOO, MUTANTS!" sort of way. Call it The Day After meets Panic Room if you need a simple way to describe the flick. If the movie sometimes feels like an adapted stage play (and yeah, it does), it helps that we're offered two exceedingly strong lead performances. Both McCormack and Cochrane deliver fine work with difficult roles, capably deflecting all sorts of "well, what would YOU do?" challenges towards the audience. The leads strike a strong chemistry from the outset, and as their situation rapidly deteriorates, we grow just a little more concerned about their fates.
Much more of a tight-fisted sci-fi thriller than an actual horror movie, Right At Your Door is still a pretty chilling affair. Not only because it represents a horror-show that actually could take place, but also because it approaches the nightmare in such a plainly matter-of-fact fashion. Toss in some smart writing, a really excellent score, and a brisk running time -- and that's a movie I don't mind recommending. Seems there are scarier things in the post-apocalypse than flesh-eating zombies...