Before seeing this film, Judge Mina Rhodes thought the term "dirty bomb" described some kind of kinky sexual position.
Terror just hit home.
I remember when Sundance '06 began, and the Sundance Channel aired their Festival Dailies program every day, recapping the festival's events for us unlucky many who could not attend. One of the films they showcased a few clips from was Right at Your Door, and I put it on my "To See Whenever the Rights Get Bought and it is Dumped into Theaters Several Months From Now" list. That was two years ago, and the film is just now making its way to DVD in the US, courtesy of Lionsgate, who bought the rights to the film at Sundance for $3 million, and then sat on it for over a year before dumping it into a handful of theaters in 2007. Now it comes to DVD, almost exactly two years after it premiered at Sundance. Was the long wait worth it? Kind of.
Facts of the Case
Brad (Rory Cochrane, A Scanner Darkly), an unemployed musician, and his breadwinner blonde wife, Lexi (Mary McCormack, K-PAX) wake up to life as usual in LA. She heads off to work, while he brushes his teeth and listens to the radio. His attempt at oral hygeine is thwarted, however, when the news interrupts his generic college rock—bombs have just been exploded downtown, and chaos has begun to erupt. Unable to contact Lexi by phone (she doesn't answer), Brad hops in his car to go looking for her, witnessing the confusion that has gripped the city, but is unable to find his wife. Scared and worried, he returns home and listens to the intructions given on the radio: the explosions were caused by dirty bombs, and a toxic, viral cloud is spreading, requiring everyone to seal their homes off from the inside to prevent contamination. With the help of his neighbors' handyman, he duct tapes all the doors and windows, all the while hoping his wife is safe out in the city. The house is eventually secured, hermetically sealed off from the deadly environment outside.
And that is when Lexi turns up on the doorstep, scared, bloody and contaminated.
One of the countless recent films to tap into (or exploit, depending on your view) the post-9/11 atmosphere of urban terrorism-related fear, Right at Your Door manages to be unsettling and involving for most of its runtime, even if the characters are bland everypeople, and the film's level of interest begins to decrease after the first half-hour's intensity suffers a dulling comedown.
That first half-hour, once Brad initially leaves the house, is tense and chilling. Through some sparingly used, highly effective visual effects shots, we see the Los Angeles skyline, a plume of black smoke rising above the buildings. People ransack hardware stores for duct tape and other supplies, while the gasmask-clad police accost anyone seen fleeing from the blast zone, even going so far as to shoot contaminated individuals who do not follow instructions while being apprehended. First-timer Chris Gorak directs these scenes with skill, even if he relies too much on overused shaky cam photography, and much of the credit for the sequence's tension can be attributed to tomandandy's nervous electronic score.
After Brad returns home, the film scales down its paranoia to the confines of a single house, but manages to keep the audience on edge for a while with its excellent sound design; the soundtrack becomes a wall of competing news reports as the house is sealed up, while tomandandy's score drones underneath. When Lexi shows up, the bickering between her and Brad threatens to sink the film—there is nothing more uninteresting than seeing two people you don't care about argue, and characters aren't really Right at Your Door's strong suit in the first place. They settle down soon after, thankfully, and the situation shifts to that of a low-key thriller, as Lexi is forced to sleep outside and hide from the ever-patrolling cops, while Brad struggles with the moral ramifications of leaving his wife outside to die. The middle of the film sags a bit, as it wastes time on characterization for characters that have no hope of becoming intriguing; it is not them, but their situation that is the film's hook. Luckily, the last quarter of the film delivers, conjuring up some memorably haunting images of men in biohazard suits trapping one of the characters in their house, right before the much hyped "final twist" ends the film on a somewhat disappointing note.
Lionsgate's DVD of Right at Your Door presents the film in its original aspect ratio, and the anamorphically enhanced picture looks fine, with no real defects; the video quality is a bit dull and soft overall, but given the film's low budget origins, that is probably how it has always looked. The audio, on the other hand, is excellent. The surrounds are occasionally put to good use with the Dolby Digital 5.1 track, with the disembodied news reports, ambient sound effects, and tomandandy's score coming from all around, providing an often active and pleasing sound mix. Accompanying the film is an audio commentary with director Chris Gorak, in which he answers questions fielded to him by David Hughes of the UK's Empire magazine. All the extras on this disc, it seems, are simply ported over from the Region 2 PAL release, which explains why clips from the film interspersed in the extras have that ugly PAL to NTSC converted look to them. The commentary itself is a bit of a bore, but provides enough behind-the-scenes info for those who are curious. Two featurettes and two alternate endings in script form comprise the rest of the extras; the first featurette is "Forearm Shiver": An Interview with Chris Gorak (25:44 minutes), in which Gorak talks about how the idea for the film came to him, its production, and its premiere at Sundance. Like the commentary, it's informative, but Gorak himself has a droning voice and lack of charisma that make the 26 minutes feel much longer than they should. The second featurette, Film School: Tips on Making an Independent Film with Chris Gorak (14:34 minutes), is essentially an extention of the previous interview, but this time around, Gorak talks about how he entered the world of film, and dispenses a few tips on shooting with a low budget. Alternative Ending Scripts is exactly what the title says it is: two alternative endings reproduced from the script (spelling errors and all), that you can click through to read; both were jusitifiably dropped from the final shooting script. The disc is rounded out with some trailers for other Lionsgate titles.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The film itself is a nice effort, but stalls a bit in its midsection, and
does not make well enough use of its potent premise. Much of the promotion for
the film (including the front of the DVD cover) has focused on the twist ending,
which is so underwhelming that if one views the film with expectations of being
blown away with some shocking revelation, they will be sorely disappointed.
Still, petty complaints aside, Right at Your Door is a reasonably well-made thriller that should satisfy viewers in the mood for something darker and more thoughtful than more mainstream genre fare, and Lionsgate's DVD more or less delivers in the video, audio and extras departments.
Not guilty, although Lionsgate is ordered to release their festival acquisitions in a more timely fashion in the future.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Chris Gorak
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