Review: WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING, Apocalyptic Chamber Thriller
Sierra McCormick, Vinessa Shaw, and Pat Healy star in a horror thriller, directed by Sean King O'Grady.
As a powerful storm tears through town, Melissa and her family seek shelter in their bathroom. When the storm passes, they realize they are trapped inside.
Melissa thinks that it is something that she and her girlfriend Amy did the night before that brought this devastation to town. However, the real horrors may not be waiting outside the door.
It is clear from the start that some of Sean King O’Grady’s strengths as a narrative filmmaker will be his powers of suggestion and nuance. As the storm rolls in he is already carefully laying out hints about the storm that is brewing inside the bathroom.
Diane keeps looking at her phone, at messages she ignores. Robert cannot help but notice, while he keeps a thermos at his side, taking sips. Who walks around the house with a thermos at the ready?
Melissa desperately texts Amy, asking maybe, just maybe, are they the ones who brought this storm? The only true innocent here is her younger brother, Bobby, strolling into the bathroom with a couple board games to help pass the time.
In his first feature length film, O’Grady prefers to keep his monsters close, preferring to focus on the family trapped in the bathroom. We do not know if this is the same choice that screenwriter Max Booth III took when writing his original novella by the same name. We do know that whatever it is out there, it is fucking apocalyptic. O’Grady achieves most of this through glorious sound design, just a smattering of blood and very little gore. A lot of it is left to the mind’s eye. Wondrous.
As the days go on, the family dynamic degrades, exacerbated by exhaustion, starvation and withdrawal. We understand now that the title, We Need to Do Something, works on many levels here. The most obvious interpretation is that the family needs to do something about getting out of the bathroom.
Then you see, as the story progresses, that it goes deeper than that. For Melissa (Sierra McCormick) and Amy (Lisette Alexis), they felt the need to do something about how people at school treated them and their relationship. Through a series of flashbacks the story traces their relationship from its beginnings to the previous night.
They reached a breaking point and this is when they finally dabble with powers other than their own to solve the troubles they face at school. Is this the real source of the problems outside? Are two girls in high school, acting out against bullying, the epicentre of this external crisis?
The depths of cyberbullying that they are experiencing are only hinted at but it is enough to disgust the viewer. We feel O’Grady treats this more carefully here than he probably could have, with a story that speaks about monsters both inside and outside the home. There is a fine balance, though, and he appears cautious of not exploiting real life for the sake of his narrative.
Finally, for Melissa and her mother Diane (Vinessa Shaw), they need to do something about what is clearly a hostile home environment. This is the here and now. This is the elephant in the room. This is the escalating situation that is coming to a head.
When Robert (Pat Healy) loses his shit, both Diane and Melissa turn away from his rage. Is this an automatic reaction that comes from blowups in the past? We would never presume that this is the first time Robert has done this and that his relationship with his thermos was more important than with any of his family.
There is a risk here that Pat Healy’s performance is so big, thanks in part to both his gifts as an actor and the character written for him by scribe Max Booth III, that it could overshadow the filmmaker’s other focus on Melissa and her relationship with Amy. Their story does seem to be the next important one and O’Grady never says it right out but there is the lingering question of their possible involvement bringing about the end of days.
But Healy’s Robert poses the most immediate threat to everyone’s safety. That has to be dealt with first. What’s outside the walls of their home will just have to wait.
O’Grady has crafted a tension-filled, apocalyptic chamber horror, adapted by author Booth III from his own text. While creating mystery about what is outside the door our attention is turned inward, towards Melissa and her family. It would be easy for jaded viewers to dismiss the familiar tropes that O’Grady begins to tick off here. Ah, the monsters are us.
But he never gives up on what is outside those doors, keeping this family prisoner and subject to their own dysfunction. He speaks quietly about the teenage climate in the digital age, to address the issues while not exploiting them. He places surprise and horror in the right spots, delivering violence and gore only where he has to. All of this is anchored by an expectantly strong performance by Pat Healy.
Review originally published during the Tribeca Film Festival in May 2021. The film will open in U.S. theaters, on digital platforms, and on VOD on Friday, September 3, via IFC Midnight.