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Tribeca 2021: “We Need to Do Something” doesn’t do quite enough

We Need to Do Something

Sean King O’Grady directs a claustrophobic horror film that has a lot of potential, but just misses the mark.

We Need to Do Something, the debut feature from Sean King O’Grady, is a horror film that can easily be read on two different levels, though your mileage with it will vary depending on which one you choose to follow. As a straightforward horror yarn, albeit with moments of grotesque black humor thrown in from time to time, it contains a few interesting elements but never finds a way to pull them together into a completely satisfying whole. On the other hand, if one regards the whole enterprise on a more overtly symbolic level, it gains a little more in terms of power and effectiveness.

Yet, even then it also tends to lose its way especially once the fairly potent central metaphor gives way to less interesting instances of bloodshed. In either case, it ends on such a clunky and ineffective note that viewers may get the sense that O’Grady and screenwriter Max Booth III have just been screwing with them, a feeling enhanced by the all-too-apt choice for a key musical cue towards the end.

As the film opens, it is a dark and very stormy night and a family—parents Robert (Pat Healy) and Diane (Vinessa Shaw), teenage daughter Melissa (Sierra McCormick) and younger son Bobby (John James Cronin)—are preparing to hole up in the large bathroom in their home to ride out an imminent tornado warning. As we quickly surmise, the storm outside is nothing compared to those being conjured up inside. Whatever happy days there may have been in the marriage of the alcoholic and abusive Robert and the fed-up Diane are way in the past, and Melissa is more concerned with getting a hold of her girlfriend Amy (Lisette Alexis), with whom something happened earlier that day, than anything else. 

All of a sudden, the power goes out, a terrific crash is heard and when the storm subsides, it seems that a tree has fallen just outside the bathroom’s only door, which can now only be opened a couple of inches at  most. With the entire room evidently having been built like a bunker, and with the inevitable lack of any cellphone signal, the family is now effectively trapped together. Inevitably, no one comes, and as hours stretch into days the combination of cabin fever and hunger starts to send everyone over the edge. To make matters worse, the only contact with the outside world comes in the form of a series of increasingly bizarre moments that suggest to Melissa that perhaps something that she and Amy have done may be responsible for it all.

We Need to Do Something (Tribeca)

I don’t know how We Need To Do Something all played out on the page, but I suppose it could work on some basic level when all of the action is confined to the mind’s eye of the reader. Presented in the more overtly literal light of the cinema, it proves to be a lot less effective. For one thing, the parents are depicted in such over-the-top extremes that you’re always aware that you’re watching a couple of actors making extreme choices, instead of a plausible married couple tearing into each other because there is nothing left for them to do otherwise. As for the subplot involving Melissa and Amy and their possible misdeeds, that’s all doled out in a series of flashbacks that seem to be from an entirely different movie (to name said film would probably constitute a spoiler), and which too often end up dissipating the tension that has been building up in that bathroom.

That said, if you decide to approach the story on a less literal level that uses its central situation—being trapped in confined quarters with no easy escape in sight—as a metaphor for having spent the last year under a pandemic that has forced us into too-close quarters with loved ones, the film is undeniably more effective and even the occasionally over-the-top acting choices make more sense in this particular context. However, that metaphor kind of plays itself out towards the end and O’Grady and Booth III cannot figure out a way to bring it to any kind of satisfying conclusion. Instead, the blood flows heavily in the final minutes, in the hope of distracting viewers from its annoyingly inconclusive denouement.

We Need To Do Something does have some virtues to speak of here and there. The performances are all good (the characters played by Healy and Shaw may not make a lot of sense but they certainly commit to their roles), there are some nice moments of dark comedy here and there (such as the sight of Robert chomping down on alcohol pads to get a much-needed fix) and there’s also a sensationally effective jump-scare sequence that proves to be all the more ingenious after you peruse the end credits. It also shows that O’Grady is capable of one day directing a film that does indeed work, both dramatically and metaphorically, even if he has not quite managed to do so this time around. 

 

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Peter Sobczynski

Peter Sobczynski is a Chicago-based filmcritic whose work can be seen at RogerEbert.com, EFilmcritic.com and, well, here. He is also on the board for the Chicago Critics Film Festival and the Chicago Film Critics Association. Yes, he once gave four stars to “Valerian” and he would do it again.