Ignorance Isn’t Exactly Bliss
Arrissia Owen Turner
Chris Gorak’s bone-chiller about a terrorist attack in Los Angeles was shot between 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina but feels like a direct response to both. In the nouveau-boho eastside hills, Lexi and Brad (Mary McCormack and Rory Cochrane) survive the tensions of another morning where he wakes up early to fix her organic espresso and she refuses sex before heading off in her power suit to her downtown job. Twenty minutes later, Brad drops the emasculation pity party when the new reports that dirty bombs have detonated near Lexi’s office and LAX and Beverly Hills. Like Bruce Willis, he jumps in his car to head to her rescue. But Gorak’s too realistic for heroes and Brad is forced to turn back and seal up his house from the toxic ash–a ghastly snowfall that smothers the city.
Along with the next-door neighbor’s stranded gardener Alvaro (Tony Perez, whose accent and comprehension fade in and out), he covers the windows and doors with shower curtains, dry cleaning bags, and Tom Ridge’s wondrous duct tape. Chaotic radio newscasters have only one clear piece of advice: Stay away from those infected by the blast, lest like chemical warfare zombies, they spread their contagion. The government doesn’t know what the toxin is or what it does (or if they do, they aren’t saying), but if Lexi lives and limps back home like a wounded dog, Brad’s forced to make her stay out on the porch.
By definition, Gorak’s naturalistic fright fest is claustrophobic and myopic. As Brad smudges his face against the windows and presses Alvaro to translate the Spanish station’s updates, his confusion is intimate. We know that based only on other people’s hunches, he’ll have to make that Sophie’s choice between his life and Lexi’s lonely death. And his decision reflects on us–could we do anything different? Brad’s limited knowledge of the disaster isn’t a liability, it’s the point. Gorak doesn’t mention Al Qaeda or Iraq or Bush or even the word "terrorism." The film is oddly uninterested in politics and the whos, whys, and hows of the attack. What’s really under fire is the American government’s disastrous response–misinformation, secrecy, and violence–domestic navel-gazing that’s sure to either piss people off or confirm their fears. It’s us versus ourselves when brutish agents in stormtrooper suits sweep the Echo Park hills to interrogate the survivors. Gorak isn’t just gloomy, he’s bracingly sour about our government’s interest in honesty and protection. Help is on the way, the broadcasters promise, but by day two, no one’s buying it. At one point, Lexi’s mother frantically chides her from across the country about not going to the hospital for help. Her daughter knows that they’re stacked to the ceiling and turning everyone away, but as her mom insists–"The news says that’s what you should do"–Lexi bites her tongue while her face sags with bitterness and resignation.
Right at Your Door isn’t politically deep but it’s emotionally smart. Occasionally, it succumbs to shock value: Lexi’s attempt to break through a window plays like a werewolf flick and black hoods make their umpteenth cameo this year as a Pavlovian jolt of evil. But it’s crushing when Lexi finally makes it through to her brother’s cell phone only to realize she has no idea how to say goodbye. By distilling the attack into an ordinary marriage, Gorak makes us take the boogeyman home from the theater and double-check our stash of bottled water and duct tape as we make our own emergency plan. On that issue, Brad and Lexi’s trial offers no advice. Even the government’s orders are bunk. Ultimately, Gorak ends with the discomforting thought that if you obey the rules, you’re guaranteed to lose. The big question is when should we rebel? What Gorak nearly seems to suggest is that the time for dissent shouldn’t be after the catastrophe, but before.