Saturday, September 09, 2006

I'm Not a Zombie, Honest!

Hey, I'm back! Did ya miss me?

Oh you're just saying that...

So, I've just been to see Right At Your Door. I was really looking forward to this - from the promotion it came across as a tough little indie picture with something to say about the current state of panic.

(You know how we look back at the nuclear panics of the 80s and 60s now? Retrospectively aware that the paranoias were overwrought, and the safety measures pointless? How come nobody has this in mind during the current alleged 'terror wave'? When did we stop being able to tell the difference between 'more terrorists' and 'more headlines about terrorists'?)

As you may know, I'm sucker for the little independent film that could. Hard Candy was my last such joy, and Right At Your Door has a similar set of criteria - two leads, one male, one female, a low budget, L.A. setting, tense atmosphere...

...only, as it turns out, Door is actually pretty wooden. Solid, unremarkable, and ultimately not very interesting.

Laboured metaphor aside, it's with some disappointment that I say this, because it was film I fully expected to like.

As dirty bombs explode in downtown Los Angeles, a husband can't contact his wife. The authorities insist that houses be locked down and sealed up to protect inhabitants from infection, but when his wife comes home, our man has to make the tough decision to leave her locked outside rather than risk the lives of himself and next-door's caretaker.

Now, two things to ignore. The 'What would you do?' premise is the first. What you would do is panic, not be very good at sealing the house up, and ultimately let the person you love back in so at least you can be together in your final hours. Or, if there's a cure, you'll both get it. Who wants to be the only survivor?

Secondly, ignore the blurb about a twist ending. It isn't. It's not even close. It's seeded early and often. Worse than that, it's EXACTLY the kind of twist you've come to expect from downbeat, 'what if?' cinema.

See, when the wife comes home and screams to be let in, you've already seen it in another genre - the zombie movie. 'Let me in, it's just a scratch!'

Now, in those circumstances, everyone in the audience yells 'Shoot her through the head!' Because to get sentimental in a horror film is to invite death.

Oh, but Door is SERIOUS film. Not some silly genre picture. It wants to know what you;d do FOR REAL, if it weren't some silly film.

Only, to be a SERIOUS film, you can't pull a cheap, predictable movie twist. You either embrace genre or avoid it, but you can't do both. If we're asked to see his decision as the right one early on, you can't tell us later that he deserves to be punished by the movie gods in an way that sucks all credibility from the film.

All this is a shame, because TV familiar faces Mary McCormack (The West Wing's Kate, oddly getting top billing) and Rory Cochrane (CSI: Miami's Speedle) put heart and soul into their performances. Through the film's brisk runtime they run through the worst emotions with credibility and accessibility.

Meanwhile writer-director Chris Gorak undoes his noble intentions with a far-too-weak narrative and under-developed characters and relationships. There's about enough story (and, yes, lame predictable twist) to fuel a 45-minute episode of The Outer Limits, but no way a feature.

That's okay, you think, with only two acts to the story at least there's time for two good actors to let us tear into the hearts of their characters.

Eh - not so much.

While studiously avoiding lame exposition - it's an hour before we learn that Cochrane's character is an out-of-work musician, and I don't think we ever find out what McCormack does - he forgets that, to care deeply about people, we have to know them. They have to be more than a cipher for 'If I was him'.

And maybe that's it. Maybe keeping their lives unspecific was meant to make it easier for viewers to lay their own natures over the top. If so, it doesn't work. What it does instead is keep motivations vague - ironic, really, because we might have been better with a film that asks 'What would HE do?'

So as we watch two miserable souls fall apart, uncertain about what, exactly, is being lost (there's a little talk that the husband no longer speaks to his family, while McCormack does take a call or two from her mother - but again it's lip-service to emotions that could have run much deeper).

It's a post 9/11 movie. Of course it is. And I don't think that's anything to be ashamed of - how can you identify with art if it doesn't reflect your reality?

What SHOULD be shaming is the script. For all the gritty, ugly, yet oddly-compelling visuals (Gorak was formerly an art director, and Fight Club sits high on his CV), it's the writer half of the writer-director who needed a bit of a talking to.

Deliberately underplaying character to avoid melodrama is noble, but you need something in its place. More of the same tone - unrelenting bleakness and panic - isn't enough, no matter how well-executed your low-budget visuals. The script is the cheapest way to improve your film, and a dirty cop-out of a finale like this shouldn't have made it beyond the first draft.

So, well-intentioned, and certainly a sign of a talent to come. But, like so many directors, he'll need a solid screenwriter on hand to make 'interesting' into 'excellent'.


At Sat Sep 09, 11:24:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to have you back!

China Blue (clearly not out clubbing like she'd originally planned)

At Mon Sep 11, 09:38:00 am, Blogger sorking said...

Why thank ya, Miss Moxy!

Ironically, I - who haven't been out clubbing in about two years - WAS doing just that when you posted.

Women of Kingston ran in fear... :-)

At Mon Sep 11, 12:08:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

>Women of Kingston ran in fear...

Oh, I'm sure you're not that bad a dancer.

P.S. - I quite like Miss Moxy as a nickname!



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