Right at Your Door is an intelligent, ably conceived doomsday drama by writer-director Chris Gorak. It’s the sort of low-budget, high-concept movie that typically comes creeping in around the end of the summer kiddie-show carnival at the nation’s multiplexes — too low-profile for a fall season send-off, too idiosyncratic to play alongside summer vacation tent poles, but too interesting to merely brush off.
The opening scenes of Gorak’s original screenplay resemble a retread of a ’50s Atomic Age sci-fi shocker. Unemployed musician and house husband Brad (Rory Cochrane) bids his wife Lexi (Mary McCormack) goodbye from their Los Angeles bungalow as she heads downtown to the office. The smoggy sky yields a yellowish-gray light, but it’s about to get worse. Not long after she drives off, he begins to hear startling radio and TV reports of explosions in downtown Los Angeles. The city is under attack. Dirty bombs have been detonated at several key locations, meaning massive nuclear radiation. Residents are warned to stay indoors. Brad panics, then recovers enough to try to drive downtown to find Lexi, but police roadblocks prevent him from going any further than a hardware store — so he does the same as other people and stocks up on plastic sheeting and duct tape before he returns home in full despair mode. Alvaro (Tony Perez), the handyman from next door whom Brad barely knows, shows up to take refuge and helps Brad seal the doors and windows. Then they wait.
What happens next is strikingly different than most end-of-the-world midnight-movie scenarios, because Gorak, an art director and production designer for such films as Minority Report, Fight Club, and Lords of Dogtown, narrows down the action instead of broadening it out. Using a tight, intimate field of vision — shot in handheld Super 16 (blown up to 35mm) in washed-out color to match the fallout coming down from the sky — Right at Your Door zooms in on Brad, his uninvited guest, a lost neighborhood kid, and eventually the distraught Lexi as they claustrophobically navigate the hours after the terrorist attack. The entire disaster is shown from the vantage point of Brad and Lexi’s house, with no inserts from ground zero. The house is on a hillside, and from there we can spot flames and heavy smoke downtown — it’s creepier than any chaotic action scenes could ever be. Other than that faraway glimpse, Brad has to rely on dwindling broadcasts for information.
Gorak’s strategy places a lot of weight on the actors, and both indie-film supporting player Cochrane and TV actor McCormack (The West Wing) bring home the gnawing, anonymous horror of their situation with strong, gut-level performances. They’re just regular, middle-class urban professionals, with backstories including the usual marital ups and downs, who must now communicate with each other through a plastic curtain and wait for help in a time and place where there really isn’t any. The trees and ground are covered in a layer of ash and birds are falling down dead. People are beginning to cough noticeably. Meanwhile, the gas and electricity are working, but not the Internet or cell phones, and we hear reports that the entire metro area is contaminated. The rest of the United States is apparently unaffected. So there’s a moral to this story: Don’t live in Los Angeles.
But maybe it doesn’t matter where you live. The new environmental documentary The 11th Hour doesn’t predict a terrorist cataclysm — that would be too easy. Instead, filmmakers Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners, who jointly wrote and directed, place the blame for the impending demise of the human race (“Extinction is a natural part of life”) directly on us, as in “We’re all in this together — let’s fix it before it’s too late.”
The gang’s all here: Too many people. The hidden price of consumer goods. Climate change. Environmental refugees. Environmental illnesses. Greedy corporations who believe that nature is property. The struggle of the species. Grim warnings (“Every living system in the biosphere is in decline”) and queasy-making facts (“Every truckload of product creates 32 truckloads of waste”). Clearly humankind is its own worst enemy as well as its sole client. Earth will go on without us. The montage rolls inexorably forward, pitched somewhere between Koyaanisqatsi and An Inconvenient Truth. And because movie star and eco-warrior Leonardo DiCaprio is involved (he helped produce and write), the talking heads are a cut above those of most digital “human beings off planet Earth” horror pics: Mikhail Gorbachev and former director of the CIA R. James Woolsey. There’s a ray of hope, of course, but don’t count on it always being there. One of the film’s first recommendations is that we need some form of leadership. We also need to get slower and smarter, and to relearn frugality. So, to repeat: Ride a bike to this film, practice sustainability, and don’t live in Los Angeles.