The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/events/film/2021-09-03/we-need-to-do-something/

We Need to Do Something

Not rated, 97 min. Directed by Sean King O’Grady. Starring Sierra McCormick, Vinessa Shaw, Pat Healy, Lisette Alexis, John James Cronin.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Sept. 3, 2021

Is Sean King O’Grady’s We Need to Do Something the most gonzo cosmi-comic, quasi-Lovecraftian, close-quarter, feel-bad, dysfunctional family comedy of the year that opens with a fantastical people-in-peril pedigree and ends with a literal, bloodred bang? Yes. Yes, it is. Among its many other choice moments of surrealistic pillow-biting, O’Grady’s single-room, four-character study in exsanguinary scarlet and tongue-of-dog (don’t ask) employs Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (Teutonic New Waver Taco’s 1982 cover) to even more outrageous effect than when it was first employed for yuks in Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein. It’s a 97-minute roller-coaster ride straight into an ecstatically fucked up familial meltdown that’s a perfect tonic for our own trapped-with-relatives times. See? Things could be worse. Now pass the horseradish, there’s a demon to gnaw on.

Genre stalwart Healy (Cheap Thrills, The Innkeepers) plays Robert, the alcoholic head of a household that includes wife Diane (Shaw); gothy, nonbinary teen daughter Melissa (McCormick); and 10-year-old son Bobby (Cronin). Adapted by Max Booth III from his own novel, the film opens in wild confusion as the four scramble into (presumably) their home’s master bathroom just as a raging storm descends upon the neighborhood – or possibly the whole world – and tosses a tree against the door, effectively blocking their only means of escape once all the hellish Sturm und Drang beyond the door subsides. Prescient, bespectacled Bobby looks up at his mother and in the cinematic understatement of the year tells her, “I think something might be wrong,” while his pop gulps the-devil-knows-what from a thermos and declares, “It’s not the end of the goddamn world!” Um, yeah, Dad, but you’re the one who drains the thermos and then moves on to the Listerine while the hackles-raising sound of a large canine (or is it?) slathering at the blocked doorway beckons worse things outside to come.

O’Grady, working from Booth’s tightly knit script, gives the audience a master class in claustrophobic horror movie minimalism, preferring to focus on the four cornered family members as fear and uncertainty hobble their rational wits and a slowly slinking hysteria creeps into everyone. Everyone except little Bobby, who really just wants to pass the time playing board games and watching out for stray rattlesnakes. The director doles out a modicum of information on what, exactly, is going on outside the bathroom. Flashbacks to Melissa and her girlfriend Amy (Alexis) the night before definitely point in the direction of teen witchcraft gone wrong and there’s an unexplained indication of possible cuckoldry on mom Diane’s part, but We Need to Do Something’s real punch-and-pull comes from the grim ambiguity of the situation. With spotty electricity, cellphone issues, and the slowly dawning realization that there’s nothing to eat, no way out, and Dad’s becoming absolutely unhinged, the real terror is in the single-set bathroom. But what a set! Props to production designer Amy Williams and art director Angie Hartley, who conjure up an actual fifth character in the literal bathroom itself. A midcentury modern monstrosity that rivals The Shining’s room 237 in terms of sheer awful malignancy, it’s all scabbed-up crimson with mottled greenish hues and one hell of a place to find yourself stuck in for even a simple bathroom break.

The cramped environs and the paranoiac thrum that runs throughout the film like a main circuit cable straight to hell are almost outmatched by a third-act explosion of horrifyingly excellent practical gore effects. That threatens, but ultimately fails, to undercut the simmering tenor of the film up until that point.

The only other relatively recent genre film that totally nails a similar tone of antsy paranoia and psychoses gone haywire is Bruce McDonald’s woefully underappreciated 2008 masterpiece Pontypool, another slice of IV-drip nightmare fuel and a terrific genre pairing for your next at-home, double-bill, family-inclusive movie night. Just don’t let that damned dog in.

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