Written & Directed by: Chris Gorak
Baby, I feel like something's come between us, something like one one-hundredth of a millimeter of plastic sheeting. In Right at Your Door, a quasi-nuclear, quasi-apocalyptic quasi-thriller, a series of dirty bombs have exploded throughout Los Angeles; in the early morning, the biggest problem in the lives of Angelinos, according to the radio, was knowing "how organic your organic vegetables really are", but now, by mid-morning, it's something a bit more serious: encroaching, airborne (inorganic) toxins. Our unemployed, er musician protagonist—if the sixty degree May day, the traffic problems, and the indie rock radio station doesn't give away the LA setting, along with that organic vegetables bit, the copious guitars scattered around the apartment ought to—Rory Cochrane, is left with no other choice, from what he hears on the radio, but to seal up his house with duct tape and available household plastics—Saran Wrap, bubble wrap, dry cleaning plastic, etc.—or die, even though he hasn't heard from his wife, Mary McCormack, since she left for work.
Once the house is nice and airtight and we've heard the radio warn, several times, to stay far away from anyone who was near the blasts, McCormack, of course, finally turns up, filthy (such a dirty bomb) and sick, begging for entrance to the hermetic house that Cochrane, for the sake of his own survival, can't provide. (While Cochrane was last seen on the big screen scrambling to pick hallucinated bugs off of his skin in A Scanner Darkly, here we find him once again struggling to cleanse himself of intangible infections, though this time they're along the lines of radioactive detritus and guilt.) It's a Serling-worthy set-up with a Serling-worthy finale, but without an abbreviated outlet like The Twilight Zone around anymore to pitch such ideas, Gorak, in his directorial debut—he's worked as an art director for many major American directors—has no other option but to pad it out to feature film length. And padded it feels.
After the first jittery and panicked twenty minutes, whose achingly contemporary subject and evocative 9/11 imagery—black smoke rising from the horizon, raining ash—are easily, even effortlessly, engrossing, there's nowhere to go, and the film stands still along with its central characters, who're tethered to the house; secondary characters are crudely, perfunctorily introduced—the Hispanic workman from next door, the "douchebag" friend and, I kid you not, a small boy named, of all things, Timmy—and quickly disappear with little drama or purpose other than, conspicuously, to keep the narrative somewhat flowing. With all the action and excitement saved for the bookends, the interim moments of quiet drama—aka, the bulk of the film—require a mastery of performance that the leads simply don't possess. (Cochrane is affecting in his private moments of reaction to the surrounding chaos and horror, but the characters' interactions feel more like rehearsals than a worked-out final product.) It's like an Oreo cookie absent the cream.
While making a point about how media-stoked fears of terrorism do us far more harm than good, Right at Your Door more palpably feels like a paid, public announcement from the Plastics Industry Council about the miraculous impermeable properties of Saran Wrap, with a bit about the amazing binding powers of duct tape tossed in for good measure. "Isn't duct tape stupid?" McCormack asks Cochrane bitterly from out in the poisonous dust, but aside from that barb the film seems to validate Tom Ridge's much-mocked suggestions to stock up. Right at Your Door also suggests that using self-preservation as a guiding principle is a sin, but when McCormack shows up, coughing, vomiting and demanding to be let in, despite her contagious condition and potential lethality, she acts like an unsympathetic jerk. "You want to live without me?" she asks, unfairly and despicably, as though he should be out there dying with her. Good for you, Cochrane, leave her out there. I don't see what the problem is.