Right at Your Door (2007) dir. Chris Gorak
Starring: Rory Cochrane, Mary McCormack
There's a certain excitement at discovering a new low budget self-produced film that actually works. So when a small buzz emerged from Sundance about a low-budget high concept paranoia thriller that won the Cinematography Prize I had hopes this could be the next “Primer”, “Pi” or “El Mariachi. It’s a lofty goal, but Sundance regularly discovers these mini-masterpieces. “Right At Your Door” is a promising start to a directing career for Chris Gorak, but compared to those other films – it falls way short of a true indie-achievement.
The story is simple. Shortly after Brad (Rory Cochrane) has just kissed his wife (Mary McCormack) goodbye for work, Los Angeles is attacked with a series exploding dirty bombs. Brad learns through the radio that deadly chemicals are slowly spreading throughout the city. Whole sections of L.A are being closed down and quarantined. Brad is forced to seal off his house to protect himself from harm. But when his wife returns he is presented with a moral conundrum – let his wife in and expose himself, or leave her to die from the deadly toxins outside.
There’s definitely talent in Gorak’s directing abilities. At a glance the film could double for an episode of “24” or “The Wire” or “Law and Order”. The production design is fantastic and the actors deliver fine performances. Unfortunately it’s the screenplay that lets Gorak down.
For some reason Chris is scared to use the “T” word. It seems a conscious decision not to say 'terrorist', and not to give reason or cause for these attacks. Gorak’s intentions to not make the ‘why’ the centre of attention are admirable (he clearly wants to focus on character), but in doing so a giant elephant sits in the room and is never acknowledged. This is one of many frustrating aspects of the film.
Inherent to low budget filmmaking are the many disguises or ‘cheats’ filmmakers must employ to keep costs down, especially in a high concept thriller. Gorak not only refuses to go into the backstory of the attack, he fills his time with too much repetitive dialogue. As a result the film loses steam after 30mins. Gorak keeps his characters in a house for 90mins, but after half an hour there’s are no substantial beats or obstacles to keep our attention.
Gorak is very clever – we are fed a plethora of emotional crying and paranoid yelling; visually he keeps us interested with a handheld camera, jump cuts, flash lights; and on the soundtrack there's a constant chatter from a radio as well as a fine Tomandandy score. But in the end “Right At Your Door” doesn’t surmount the real challenge of a low budget chamber drama – how to keep a story moving, evolving and changing with one location and minimal characters. After 30mins these distractions fade away and we aren’t left with much story.
The film won the Cinematography Award at the Sundance Film Festival. For a low budget film it’s a minor miracle to achieve such high production value, but I do have a small beef with the lighting. It was very difficult to see the actor’s faces, as they were always underlit or covered in shadow. Even by tweeking the brightness and contrast on TV screen I could never find a satisfactory level that didn’t blow out the rest of picture.
Despite all my criticisms, cudos to Mr. Gorak. He has successfully crafted a fine director’s resume – from which he will likely get more work. I look forward to his second film.
“Right At Your Door” is available on DVD January 20, 2008 from Lionsgate Films and Maple Pictures.