Apocalypse wrapped in flimsy plastic plot
"Right at Your Door" takes a potential and horrific real-world scenario -- a terrorist-launched dirty bomb spewing a toxic cloud over greater Los Angeles -- and bit by bit trivializes it into a "Twilight Zone" episode. Neat trick, but it's hardly the intended one. Written and directed by Chris Gorak, the film is low budget but puffed with self-importance, and it offers proof that Hollywood filmmakers should probably steer clear of topics that actually matter.
At first, the movie works up a fair amount of suspense for a one-set wonder. Unemployed musician Brad (Rory Cochrane) rises one sunny LA morning and sends his wife, Lexi (Mary McCormack), off to work; several minutes later, the radio begins emergency-broadcasting reports of detonations downtown. Rushing outside, Brad sees plumes of smoke rising from office buildings miles away, and the special effects are realistic enough to press that old 9/11 dread-button all over again.
The camerawork is hand-held, panicky; half-heard radio broadcasts stand in for soundtrack music. Trying to drive to wherever his wife may be, Brad is pushed back to his house as news of deadly fumes comes in. With the help of his neighbor's handyman (Tony Perez), he duct-tapes doors and windows shut just as the rain of ash begins to fall.
That's when Lexi arrives. And that's when "Right at Your Door" starts to fall apart, because the jittery husband refuses to let his wife inside, afraid she'll contaminate him. This barely makes sense on the movie's own terms -- not to mention any genuine human emotional ones -- but it does let Brad and Lexi chew over their relationship problems through thin plastic sheeting.
Filmmaker Gorak signals "realism" by having his characters use the f-word twice every f'ing sentence, and he obviously thinks he's on to something important here. What's the message, though? Love the one you're with, even if she's radioactive and you can't get near her? Keep food and fresh water in the basement at all times? Read the newspaper more often? It's a little late for that.
"Right at Your Door" exploits your and my daily code-orange anxieties for faux-topical thrills and a cheap twist ending that doesn't even scan. All that keeps the film watchable is Cochrane's shredded-cuticle performance as Brad; the actor who was once Slater the stoner in "Dazed and Confused" fearlessly portrays a terrorism survivor as a self-absorbed and indecisive "nice guy."
The apocalypse movie you're looking for is probably Michael Haneke's 2003 "Time of the Wolf," in which society falls apart in ways that feel awful and real. But maybe this is how the world ends in LA -- not with a bang but a 96-minute whimper.