If horror films are a reflection of contemporary social issues, we should all brace ourselves for an onslaught of quarantine panic-stricken chillers and thrillers like WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING.
Of course, if you already are a horror fan, you’ll know that we’ve been seeing these already, with indies such as Rob Savage’s Host launching on Shudder last year to critical acclaim (though I had plenty of issues with the film myself). Borrowing from the playbook of “online” horror films such as Unfriended, Host is a ghost story for the COVID-19 era. Utilizing a Zoom interface, Host became a positive example of striking while the iron is hot, capitalizing on trends, activities, and the collective emotions we faced during the early quarantine stages of the pandemic.
Whereas movies like Host are set during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sean King O’Grady’s WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING serves as an allegory for the trauma of isolation that folks around the globe are now unfortunately all-too-familiar with.
Kicking things off with ominous dark clouds looming over small-town America, we’re introduced to a family of four as they take shelter in their bathroom during a tornado. Siblings Melissa (Sierra McCormick) and Bobby (John James Cronin) share a quotidian bickering relationship for a brother and sister with a wide age gap. Husband and wife Robert and Diane (Pat Healy and Vinessa Shaw) are bitter and resentful toward one another, with the former frequently exploding at the family due to blatant anger issues and alcohol dependency. When a tree crashes through the roof and blocks the door from the outside, they soon realize that their options are limited aside from simply waiting for someone to come and rescue them. As time goes by, strange happenings begin to occur and the family begins to wonder if the outside world is no longer what they once knew.
I’m not certain if I cared about these characters more than I was interested in seeing what was in store for them, but the cast works well amongst each other despite some occasionally forced dialogue. Pat Healy is no stranger to playing scummy characters and, well, let’s just say Robert is the type of dad who’s unlikely to bring home any “Father of the Year” awards. Melissa, early on, is the one who delivers the (sort of, not quite) title of the film in a plea for proactive measures to be taken. They’re also a family that knows how to take a joke despite the dire nature of their circumstances. It’s welcome when a horror film knows not to take things too seriously, but attempts at humor can be hit or miss.
Structurally, WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING won’t feel out of place for Twilight Zone fans, with its genre trappings and real-world allegory. Based on a novella by Max Booth III (who also adapted it into the film’s screenplay), it doesn’t feel so much like a film about the coronavirus pandemic as it evokes the grim, sad reality of sheltering in an isolated location for prolonged periods.
Economically produced, the majority of the film is set in the bathroom, but what we’re presented comes across as professional and deliberate rather than cheap. Occurrences outside of the bathroom are left to the audience’s imagination, which some will undoubtedly find frustrating, but it largely succeeds at maintaining an air of mystery that’s essential for creating tension. Flashbacks are intermittently spread throughout, revealing nuggets of information to help the story coast along to the finish line at a brisk 97 minute-long runtime. It’s nothing particularly new, nor does it build up to any dramatic reveals per se, but it weaves the tale at its own pace with a clear destination in mind.
It’s a bit of a bummer, as it does feel as though the film lays the groundwork for some form of surprise ending or emotional catharsis. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of bleakness or chaos to be found, but I wish it were all featured in a film that had a bit more to say.
What can be said about WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING is that it delivers one of the best scares of the year. Seasoned horror vets may think they know what to expect, but it managed to drop my jaw with its WTF weirdness and ace sound design (the film also sports an interesting metal-inspired score that provides a deafening backdrop for what’s otherwise a low-key setting).
And yet, it also feels like the film peaks somewhat early with this genuinely inspired moment of shock. What comes after should likely satisfy gore fans, but it left me yearning to have taken away something deeper from the experience. What’s here is sufficient as entertainment; it’s just missing something to make me want to revisit this family’s apocalyptic ordeal in such tight quarters, especially after a year of being trapped inside my little one-bedroom apartment.
WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in June 2021 and will be released in theaters, Digital, and VOD on Friday, September 3, 2021, from IFC Midnight.