There are no zombies to distract from the plausibility of Right at Your Door. And that’s what makes this smart, coolly horrifying American indie thriller one of the scariest movies you’re likely to see all year — a post-9/11 nightmare about terrorism, panic, and paranoia with real, waking-life implications. The time is now, the setting is the nothing-special new home of a young married couple in the hills of Los Angeles, where Lexi (Mary McCormack), a corporate type, kisses her stay-at-home musician husband, Brad (Rory Cochrane), goodbye and joins the city’s commuting thousands. She forgot to charge her cell phone? Ah, well, who hasn’t from time to time?
Then, in probable places like Beverly Hills, downtown, LAX, dirty bombs go off — those insidious weapons of destruction we now know to fear, localized but lingering in toxicity as chemical death travels through the ashy air. Lexi is out there and incommunicado; Brad is at home, frantic and thwarted from searching for his wife by the cops barring civilians from the roads. Eventually he follows emergency-broadcast instructions to seal himself inside and avoid contact with anyone exposed to the dirty dust. But then Lexi does show up, coughing and vomiting. And choices have to be made. What would you do?
Chris Gorak, making a smashing writing and directing debut, has established his career as a production designer (Lords of Dogtown) and art director (Minority Report, Fight Club), and his eye for the vulnerabilities (and dramatic uses) of everyday existence is exceptional. Because Brad and Lexi haven’t yet hooked up their cable, the only news is aural, not visual, allowing viewer imagination to mix with toxic fears. There’s bottled water in the kitchen but not much, because, really, who follows the media admonishments to be ready for anything? The camera focus is tight, close, the action mostly confined to the house. But in one nerve-racking sequence soon after the blasts, Brad’s panicky attempt to drive toward his wife on local streets is shot from a car’s-eye view — the lurches and reverses, the peripheral sight of other citizens scrambling for their own safety in a new world where duct tape is precious as gold.
A corrective for 24 and its blowhardism, Right at Your Door doesn’t waste time fulminating about who organized such effective terrorism, or why. Instead, Gorak keeps his inquiries intimate, and as a result, painfully identifiable. In the immediate information vacuum (and before the cloud of death dust blows north), Brad has to decide whether to give refuge to a handyman (Tony Perez) locked out of the house next door. In the long hours and even days that follow, as martial law is declared, Lexi and Brad have to consider a future denied. The story becomes more sinister (and movielike) as disinformation does its own damage, but the truth contained within this powerful fiction is very much at our door.