The Austin Chronicle

The Trigger Effect

Rated R, 93 min. Directed by David Koepp. Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Elisabeth Shue, Dermot Mulroney, Richard T. Jones, Bill Smitrovich, Michael Rooker.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 6, 1996

It opens with a wildly impressive four-minute-long Steadicam shot that slides languidly through a hostile maze of patrons at a crowded multiplex, lighting occasionally on squabbling couples and irritated theatregoers, playing connect-the-dots with everyday humanity. When the camera finally reaches Matt (MacLachlan) and Annie (Shue), a married couple taking a night out from their suburban life, the sense of impending calamity is already as palpable as the breeze before a storm, heavy with the coppery taste of ozone. During the screening, a minor annoyance occurs that nonetheless challenges Matt's masculine sense of self and gnaws at him ceaselessly. The event is never mentioned again, but it's the trigger in The Trigger Effect, the butterfly wings that send the tsunami roaring toward the shores of normalcy. Returning home after the film, the couple find their infant daughter suffering from an ear infection. Harried Matt calls the pediatrician, who promises to phone a prescription in to the pharmacy in the morning, but come morning, a massive power outage has shut down literally everything and the penicillin is unobtainable. Emboldened by the chaos around him and the need to prove himself as a father, Matt steals the medicine from the pharmacist, and as simple as that, the rules begin to crumble around him. Director Koepp, who's previously penned such blockbusters as Jurassic Park and this summer's Mission: Impossible, sets the film moving toward its inevitable conclusion in the very first scenes, and then incrementally ratchets up the tension to a point even Hitchcock would be proud of. It's a phenomenally well-written movie, with each seemingly petty incident providing a dark stepping stone to the next minor irritant, until Matt's entire world is threatened, both from within and without. Shue is utterly believable as Annie, a good mom with a (presumably) wild past, one that threatens to come rushing back to bask in the primal blackout. Dermot Mulroney, as the family friend Joe, is likewise convincing in a role that could have easily been undone by a less-nuanced actor, and MacLachlan's Everyman is just that; seeing his family threatened, he reacts, with dire, bloody consequences. Shot through with the almost -- but not quite -- surreal quality that comes with a large power failure (and there's a hint of Rod Serling here, too -- Matt and Annie live by the corner of Maple and Willoughby streets, an obvious reference to a pair of Twilight Zone episodes, including the celebrated The Monsters are Due on Maple Street), Koepp's film examines the interconnections between man and the electronic society, and the terrors that are unleashed once those connections are severed, and does so in a wholly original and unnerving manner.

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