Film * Chris Gorak * Sweaty Man Listens to Radio a Lot * 2006
Despite the fact that the idea behind this feature is to watch an assortment of middling films with the hopes of ferreting out interesting ideas regarding apocalyptic events, I’m still surprised how easy it is to make large scale destruction boring. Look, I understand that this film was made with a tiny budget. It’s hard to make a credible disaster film with no money! Financial limitations put on the production forces creativity and pushes the writer to explore smaller-scale situations within the larger-scale event. In the case of Right at Your Door, the big, apocalyptic event is a massive terrorist attack in Los Angeles. There’s a series of simultaneous explosions downtown and in nearby areas which are targeting morning rush hour traffic. Oh, and it gets worse, because these aren’t just your standard-ass terrorist car bombs. Nah, these are dirty bombs, and the explosions have ejected some kind of toxic substance all over the surrounding areas. The authorities are immediately overwhelmed and the city is put on lockdown while they try and figure out just what in the hell is going on. Everything is chaos, and everyone is panicked and confused.
Right at Your Door doesn’t have the budget to show you much of that, though. And that’s fine! The actual story the film is trying to tell is a small one, about a young, childless couple who get caught up in the chaos. Brad is an unemployed musician, and Lexi is his very employed partner. On the morning of the attack, Lexi goes to work and Brad hangs out. They have just moved into their house, which is a convenient way to rely on the radio for the vast majority of the exposition. And there is a lot of exposition. Since they just moved in, the cable guy hasn’t shown up, which is handy because now we don’t have to worry about a bunch of expensive fake-TV bits and/or actually seeing the chaos of the attack save from at a huge distance. Of course, even in 2006 people were starting to stray away from terrestrial radio, and the movie also figures out how to neutralize cell phones in order to ratchet up tension, but whatever, using budgetary tricks in storytelling shouldn’t be a big deal. And they wouldn’t be, if the story was better. I notice them because it isn’t.
In order to pull this story off, certain things needed to happen. First and foremost, we need to be invested in the primary characters. Right at Your Door takes maybe ten minutes to give us any kind of background on the lives of these two people. In that time we learn nothing other than what I mentioned above. She’s employed, he’s not, and it’s pretty clear this aspect of their relationship was decided in order to separate the couple during the attack. Other than that, they’re just the most boring, generic white Angelino couple you’ve ever seen. Once the attack pops off, the movie then spends like twenty minutes following Brad around as he drives sweatily around his neighborhood looking for a way to circumvent roadblocks to go save Lexi. The entire time the radio is droning on and on, which I suppose is an attempt to add depth to the experience, but given that the film is going for realism, there’s very little actual information ever given. Obviously during a terror attack, especially on this scale, information is at a premium. It’s just that the film leans extremely heavily on the radio voices in order to compensate for the silent panic of Brad as he tries to figure out what to do. But it’s also the film trying to figure out what it should be doing as well. Are we going to talk about terrorism? Are we going to focus on relationships? Or the response of the emergency teams to the emergency? Right at Your Door flails around and tries to do all of that without the foundation of solid characters to properly ground the story. Oh, and to set up a dumb-ass twist which I will spoil after the break.
Perhaps I missed it, considering the sheer volume of radio chatter presented in the movie, but I’m pretty sure we’re never given a motive for the terrorist attack depicted in Right at Your Door. That seems weird. I suppose if the intent was to focus on the immediate, on-the-ground situation of a massive attack like this, it might be assumed that the victims could give a shit who was responsible. However, it’s odd that the radio never speculates. After 9/11, it took no time at all to start wildly speculating about just what in the hell was happening. Also, it didn’t take long for al-Qaeda to take responsibility. This isn’t the movie’s worst sin, but it does feel like a cop out. If you’re going to tell a story about terrorism, that story is going to be inherently political. There’s a world outside of Los Angeles which should be represented by that nonstop radio chatter, but that chatter is often just as confused as the characters.
And these characters, hoo boy. They begin as a couple of blank nothings, which sounds mean but they really have no particular personalities to speak of. There’s nothing to latch onto, no reason to care. When Lexi shows up back at the house to find Brad has sealed if off to avoid contamination from the… chemicals? Biological agents? Whatever, the point is Lexi can’t come in because she’s covered in poison. She freaks out, and he freaks out back and blah blah blah. Throughout this whole ordeal, they never really resemble a couple with a strong bond. And yet, if the point was to underscore the fragility of human relationships, why not go all the way? Lexi rages about not being let in the house, even though she’s clearly a danger to the man she supposedly loves, but then calms down, but then tries to break in anyway, and then calms down again, and then leaves, and then comes back. Man, I don’t know. The setup is flimsy to begin with, and the writing is nowhere near good enough to bolster it. I understand that Right at Your Door is supposed to be about tough choices in a disaster, but it all just feels so hokey.
Most of that is down to the ending, which is an obnoxious attempt at a Shyamalan twist and is just tbthhh. I checked out like an hour ago, there are no expectations left to subvert, my dude. We spend most of the movie with the expectation that Lexi is doomed to a slow, painful death while Brad watches, safe in his plastic bubble. But check this out, what if that time Lexi broke a window she let some doom-powder in the house and the whole time Brad’s been incubating the poison and he’s the one who’s going to die? Oooh, snap… I don’t care. That’s the overarching problem here. I’m straight up not interested in any of these people. The focus of the film is all over the damn place, as well. Ancillary characters pop up for no good reason, and leave before establishing themselves. Brad and Lexi clearly have relationship issues, but they’re never established in the first place, so when they crop up over the course of the story, they don’t matter. The ending doesn’t matter. The fate of Los Angeles never really comes up, either, so I guess the city doesn’t matter either. Which is fine, because well before I got to the end I had already figured out that Right at Your Door was wasting its premise as well as my time.