A series of dirty bombs are detonated in Los Angeles, scattering poison dust over the city. Brad (Cochrane), an out-of-work musician, follows official instructions to seal his home, though this means shutting out his infected wife Lexi (McCormack). The
While it deals with the modern issue of terrorist attacks on urban population centres, this suspenseful, upsetting picture is in the edgy, paranoid vein of such 1970s films as The Crazies in its belief that, after any given disaster, the worst enemies the average citizen has are the know-nothing government forces they might look to for help.
Set in a pleasant, hillside Los Angeles neighbourhood, the film opens with a credible early-morning sketch of the not-untroubled relationship of Brad (Rory Cochrane) and Lexi (Mary McCormack), a slacker and a suit. Soon, however, as conveyed by a chatter of radio news and a few effective long views, the bombs go off — on freeways, at the airport, in Beverly Hills — in the middle of the commuter rush.
Unlike the British TV film Dirty War, which went into the realistic details of what a dirty bomb is, how it would affect a city and who would be likely to deploy the device, this avoids the political side of things to the extent that even radio reporters are so focused on the crisis they don’t try to speculate who might have launched the attack. There’s a science-fiction element around the mystery virus spread by the toxin, with almost no information given to either protagonists or audience about its specific nature or effects. But that sense that we’re being kept in the dark feeds in to the uneasy and increasingly worrisome sense that things are not as they should be — beyond, that is, the obvious fact of the devastation of the city.
Debut writer-director Chris Gorak cannily plays against expectations: we hear a few gunshots but there’s no descent into anarchy, and when a black man in a hoodie invades the garden, he turns out to be a work-friend trying to persuade Lexi to take herself to the hospital rather than the post-catastrophe rapist-looter of everything from Panic In Year Zero to Time Of The Wolf. In a tiny cast, the familiar-but-not-stellar Cochrane (A Scanner Darkly, the CSI franchise) and McCormack (best known for TV work like The West Wing and ER) are convincing and affecting in roles which cover a great deal of emotional ground. Amid the mind-warping, large-scale horror, there’s room for small, believable character bits like Lexi’s fending-off of unhelpful but panic-inducing phone calls from her well-out-of-the-danger-zone family.
A necessary counter-argument to the wave of patriotic 9/11 movies, this homes in on the other side of disaster and rings horribly true in the wake of the Washington anthrax scare and post-Katrina New Orleans.