This might seem like faint praise for a feature film, but Right at Your Door plays out almost exactly like a well-crafted episode of The Twilight Zone. It starts out with a topical premise -- a dirty bomb explodes during rush hour in L.A. -- and then uses it to set up an interesting (if implausible) moral conundrum between its two leads, a husband and wife played by Mary McCormack and Rory Cochrane. The attack happens shortly after McCormack's character leaves the couple's modest L.A. home one morning, and within minutes the news media is reporting a breakdown in basic police and hospital services due to overwhelming need, and warning residents that the smoke cloud from the explosions contains deadly toxic gas, and that anyone who was near the blast site is now a lethal carrier of said toxin. Fearing for his life, the panic-stricken husband seals up all of the doors and windows in the house, and just as he's finishing, his soot-covered wife comes staggering up to the door, demanding to be let in. Should he let her?
Not to belabor this point, but the Twilight Zone analogy is so apt, in fact -- the focus of the film is completely on two characters, there's a ticking-clock situation, and there's the moral paradox offered up for the audience to chew on -- that if a thirty-minute cut of the film were presented as the opening episode of a New, New Twilight Zone, I imagine it would get solid reviews for upholding the basic framework of the old show. As a feature film, Right at Your Door is manipulative, to be sure, but also clever enough to be fun -- and the whole thing benefits hugely from solid acting by both McCormack and Cochrane, who have to scream, cry, panic, collapse into depression and perform just about every other kind of big acting move that you can imagine. It also contains some kernels of realism, as when it correctly imagines how easily a city overwhelmed by panic could be become the province of capricious, trigger-happy soldiers and badly-thought-out plans by roving gangs of civilians.
If there's one way the film stumbles, it's by including two completely superfluous supporting characters, neither of whom have an arc or bring anything remotely interesting to the table. The first is a neighborhood handyman character, played by Tony Perez, who shows up, uninvited, inside the couple's home immediately after the blast and just hangs around for most of the rest of the movie. I don't know about you, but if I'd just been told that the downtown area of my city had been obliterated by a massive bio-terrorism attack, I wouldn't be in the mood to show a lot of kindness to intruders in my home the way Cochrane's character is. There's also a child in the mix, who is found playing outside and becomes attached to McCormack's character, for no other purpose than to puff up the running time of the film to feature length. It would have been braver of writer/director Chris Gorak to simply let this film be what it truly is -- a two-character piece that leaves the rest of the world in the background.
As the wife, McCormack is able to flex acting muscles that we've rarely seen from her before. The classic Mary McCormack acting move is to look on in silent, wide-eyed astonishment as people around her are saying something she can hardly believe -- check out episodes of the underrated TV show K Street to get a good idea of what I'm talking about. Here she's completely believable as a woman in huge distress, who has just escaped what amounts to a war zone and now thinks she's made it to home base, only to have her husband question whether he should let her in the house. If this performance was anything less than compelling, the movie wouldn't work at all, but McCormack infuses it with just the right amount of energy to keep our interest sustained and to distract us from the fact that this whole situation is really too convenient to be believable. Her counterpoint, Cochrane, also finds the right note; some of the film's best moments are when he's making life and death decisions, but can hardly believe it.
Right at Your Door isn't designed to say anything about terrorism, as you might expect. It's not about the true-to-life ramifications of such a horrific event, or about how the fallout would realistically affect a particular city or the country at large -- it's a thriller that uses that fear of terrorism as its engine, and does a good job of it. (This is 2007, so let's hope there's no one who thinks that terrorism is still off-limits as source material for a piece of light entertainment.) If you're curious as to how the film's whole situation resolves itself, let me just say that I've already given you a good indication of that -- just refer again to the first paragraph to get an idea. Overall, Right at Your Door is a well-directed little wind-up toy and good enough in its execution that I look forward to the next film from Chris Gorak. I'm also interested again in the career of Mary McCormack, which has been in hibernation for a while now and may have awakened.