Right At Your Door (2006)

Right At Your Door is an intensely stressful, aggravating film - and mostly not for the reasons it was intended to be.

Looked at in the broadest possible strokes, it's brilliant; the basic concept, that in the aftermath of a dirty bomb going off in Los Angeles people would turn on one another and fail to trust even their most loved ones, is great, and telling a story about an enormous terrorist attack from such a small scale perspective is great, particularly if you're working with a low budget. But, and there's always got to be a but, as soon as the film started to move from the conceptual stage to an actual script and then to a finished film, things just seem to have gone more and more desperately wrong.

For starters, the lead character is incredibly stupid and selfish. Brad's every action is informed by his perception that he's somehow entitled to something more than everyone else, that he's a special case. That initally seems intentional: he's an out-of-work musician, apparently planning a busy day of sitting at home resenting his wife for having a job and actually making money. When the bombs go off, his reaction is irrational, but given the extraordinary circumstances, he can be given the benefit of the doubt. To begin with, anyway. Unfortunately, Brad rapidly destroys any goodwill we might be willing to afford him by being a complete and utter asshole: he steals from a shop, he attempts to drive into the city to find his wife despite the police roadblocks, and he drives so erratically that he puts multiple people's lives in danger. It's generally accepted that in post-apocalyptic movies the usual rules of society can be suspended, but given how quickly Brad resorts to looting, you have to wonder how law-abiding he was in the first place.

Which wouldn't be a problem, were it not for the fact that his character is completely inconsistent during the rest of the movie.

After repeatedly ignoring warnings and running around in the toxic ash falling from the sky, our hero finally - on pain of being shot - does the logical thing and returns to his house. (Seriously, how did he think driving around like a lunatic was going to help his wife, even if she were trapped somewhere?) On the way, he spots a small child wandering around, and gets out of his car to warn the child that it's dangerous to be outside and tell it to run along home. Nice, Brad. Once he gets home, he discovers a man sheltering inside - he was working in the neighbour's garden when the bombs went off, and sought cover where he could. There's a moment where it really seems like this hapless old man is going to be turfed out into the mayhem outside, but Brad apparently has a smidgen of humanity left, and lets him stay. An emergency radio broadcast informs listeners that the blasts were from dirty bombs, and that anyone within a 20 mile radius of an explosion should seal themselves inside their houses, closing all windows and doors with duct tape. The shots through the window of the toxic ash falling menacingly from the sky are nicely done, and there's a real sense of danger and urgency here as Brad and the gardener seal the house. (Although - why do they need to put plastic over the windows? Isn't glass pretty good at keeping air out by itself? Aren't they just limiting their visibility?)

Just when they seem to be safely holed up inside Brad's house, his wife reappears. Staggering and coughing, it seems she was in close proximity to one of the explosions. The radio is telling people to quarantine anyone who'd been outside in the toxic ash, to keep them away from untainted people until medical aid can be procured. And here's the first completely nonsensical bit: Brad looks out of the window at his desperate wife and tells her he can't let her into the house; that she's infected and needs to stay away from him.

Obviously, this is meant to be tense and poignant and to make people question what they'd do, in his situation. The problem is that we've just spent the entirety of the film so far watching Brad risk his life by running around outside. Opening the door, briefly, in order to let in his terrified and injured wife, seems much less of a risk to his health than everything he's already done; he's been outside breathing in the fumes plenty of times already, and given how ready he was to drive his car maniacally into police roadblocks in an attempt to find her earlier, you'd think he'd be willing to take one final risk to welcome her home.

Except, no, because that would ruin the tension in the movie. So instead, he lets her sit outside, getting covered in grey ash, coughing her lungs up, and generally looking like she's about to drop dead.

Now, you could maybe argue that when Brad was trying to get into the city earlier, he didn't know how toxic the ash was, and now that he does, he's only taking precautions. You could argue that earlier, he was panicking, and now he's rational, he's being more careful. You could, but all those arguments would be complete bollocks since there's another, really obvious solution to his problem: he could tape up one room of the house, cutting it off from the rest of the property, and then let his wife into it. That way, she wouldn't come into contact with him, but she also wouldn't have to sit outside all night.

He doesn't do that till much, much later on, though.

It seemed that maybe the film would be more affecting if, instead of experiencing events through Brad's self-obsessed, stupid worldview, we saw his wife's, Lexi's, POV. Sadly, nope; she's just as bad. Her situation is pretty dreadful - she was in an accident, she awoke to find the city on fire, and when she finally made her way home, her husband locked her out. Unfortunately, Lexi is apparently the perfect partner for Brad, because she's just as self-obsessed and stupid as he is. There's a lot of conflict to be mined in their relationship at this point: Brad should be torn between wanting to let her into the house and being afraid, while Lexi should be torn between wanting to get home and not wanting to endanger her beloved husband. Except, no, they each only care about themselves, to the point where Lexi breaks a window (and lets in toxins!) in her desperation to get inside. Which is kind of stupid, too, because if she's trying to get to a clean, safe place, she's just ballsed it up by letting the fumes get inside. Sigh.

Right At Your Door is the kind of movie that wants you to know it's got something up its sleeve. By this point, it became clear that there would be a twist ending of some kind; that everything wasn't as it seemed. That's pretty much all that kept me watching, because I just found everyone and everything in this movie utterly infuriating. Initially I thought it was an intentional decision on the part of the filmmakers, to make the characters unsympathetic; eventually, the plot holes started to eclipse everything else that was going on to the point where I was forced to accept that, no, it's just badly written. Both Brad and Lexi make one stupid decision after another, constantly endangering not only themselves but other people around them; instead of building up tension, it eventually becomes laughable, watching them do things no sane person would consider. When they're supposed to be keeping quiet and hiding, they shout and run around; when the police turn up, Brad gibbers incomprehensibly at them; Lexi continually goes back outside, even when she's been allowed inside the house. The twist, when it arrives, is good for a brief moment of schadenfreude, but that quickly fades because it doesn't actually hold water.

At the end of the day, Right At Your Door thinks it's an intelligent, politically aware thriller ideally situated in a culture terrified of terrorism and its own government. Actually, it's just a badly written, incoherent slice of post-September 11th hysteria.

IMDB link

N.B. I used this image instead of the UK poster because I love the massive spoiler they used as a quote. Brilliant!

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