Monday, April 06, 2009

Right At Your Door

Whiling away a slow afternoon at work looking back at some reviews I posted on MovieBuff Redux, my previous corner of the blogosphere, it struck me that 2006 – the period I was most active in posting on that blog – was a huge downer of a year as far as American cinema was concern. Don’t get me wrong, some bloody great films came out that year … it’s just that the best of them were so resolutely downbeat they make ‘The Dark Knight’ look like ‘Blazing Saddles’.

In particular, five years after the event and with the scars still painfully visible, 2006 was the year of 9/11 cinema. There was Paul Greengrass’s ‘United 93’, as uncomfortable a film-going experience as I’ve ever had; a film, indeed, that I’ve only seen the once. Then there was Oliver Stone’s ‘World Trade Center’, which I just couldn’t bring myself to go and see. Occupying a thematic middle ground between them was Chris Gorak’s ‘Right at Your Door’.

Gorak’s film, however, differs in several ways. While ‘United 93’ and ‘World Trade Center’ were specifically depicted all-too-real events, ‘Right at Your Door’ is emblematic of the cinema of 9/11 in that it seems to have developed from the climate of fear which the American government and media have perpetuated in the aftermath of the attacks.

The aesthetic differs, too, but that can be said of all three films. ‘United 93’ achieves an almost documentary sense of realism whereas ‘World Trade Center’ – from the look of the trailer and the opinions of friends who saw it – took a more heavily emotional approach. ‘Right at Your Door’ is a smaller film: low-budget, low-key and, a few early scenes apart, claustrophobically limited in its setting.

Most of the action takes place inside a small suburban house. Or rather, most of the inaction. The film opens with out-of-work musician Brad (Rory Cochrane) seeing his career-focused wife Lexi (Mary McCormack) off to work. Shortly thereafter, a series of ‘dirty’ bombs are detonated across LA. Brad tries to find his wife, but encounters police roadblocks; turned back, he seals his home in accordance with official instructions broadcast over the radio. Then he waits, as ash floats across the city. Waits for help. For information. For news of his wife.

Gorak turns the very tedium of waiting into the kind of nerve-shredding suspense of which Hitchcock would have been proud. Then - when Lexi turns up, alive but apparently infected - his film takes a turn into yet darker territory. The ensuing scenes are pretty much a two-hander, character-driven, redolent of Bergman at his bleakest. And even then, Gorak has one nasty fucker of a surprise up his sleeve.

I’m not giving anything away, but it’s one of the darkest, most unpalatable ironies this side of H.G. Clouzot*.

‘Right at Your Door’ is one of those films that benefits from its budgetary restrictions. There are no big crowd scenes, no pyrotechnic special effects. Instead, a sense of urgency is generated by simply not knowing (Gorak doesn’t even bother with who may or may not be responsible for the bombings), a gnawing sense of dread building and building until the shatteringly apocalyptic final moments.

*Speaking of whom, it’s not exactly gearing up to be a laugh-fest next on the Personal Faves project, either. Ooops, wasn’t April was supposed to be my have-fun, share-the-love, happy-go-lucky month on the blog?

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