Art director Chris Gorak's feature-writing/directing debut is a small-scale apocalyptic thriller that unfolds in the aftermath of a dirty-bomb attack on Los Angeles, which separates a married couple as the city devolves into chaos and cruelly conflicting advice.
Lexi (Mary McCormack) works downtown while her husband, musician Brad (Rory Cochrane), is working at home in Silver Lake. After she leaves for work, what began as an ordinary day becomes a nightmare: As Brad brushes his teeth, the radio crackles with the Emergency Broadcasting System tone. A series of explosions rock downtown, sending up plumes of gray smoke. Brad jumps in his car and goes after Lexi, but he can't get her on the phone and martial law has been declared: The police are setting up barricades and telling motorists to go home. Radio alerts admonish everyone who's indoors to stay there and seal up their homes as best they can: The billowing clouds of ash drifting to L.A.'s outlying neighborhoods is contaminated, and anyone caught outside should stay there rather than risk tainting others with as-yet unidentified but apparently "acutely fatal" toxins. Brad stops to pick up tape and plastic sheeting, tells a small boy (Scotty Noyd Jr.) to hurry home, and gets back to the house to find the neighbor's handyman, Alvaro (Tony Perez), looking for refuge; he has no way of getting back to his family. Brad and Alvaro seal up the house and, inevitably, Lexi gets back after they're done, covered with a pale coating of ash and wracked by a hacking cough. The movie's crux is the anguished give-and-take between the couple, Lexi huddled tantalizingly close to the sanctuary of home as the streets fill with squads of men in Hazmat suits, while Brad agonizes inside.
Matters eventually resolve themselves in a Twilight Zone-worthy conclusion that would probably have played better at 30 minutes than it does at 96. Gorak, whose design credits include MINORITY REPORT (2002) and FIGHT CLUB (1999), evokes downbeat predecessors ranging from George Romero's THE CRAZIES (1973) to the animated WHEN THE WIND BLOWS (1986), and early scenes achieve a convincingly grimy, post-9/11 sense of panic and confusion. But McCormack and Cochrane can't transcend the cliched, meandering dialogue, so Brad and Lexi's dilemma never feels like anything but a didactic contrivance. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh