Sean King O’Grady‘s feature directorial debut works like Pandora’s box of horror. Tension already exists for the dysfunctional foursome trapped together within a cramped space, but endless complications douse that tension with gasoline. Hope dangles like a tiny beacon amidst the relentless wave of obstacles. We Need to Do Something asks its audience to use their imagination for much of the horrors that barrage its characters, as its story is told solely within the confines of a single room. The result is an unpredictable, mean little thriller steeped in ambiguous storytelling.
Based on screenwriter Max Booth III’s 2020 novella, We Need to Do Something opens to a family of four seeking shelter from the raging storm and tornado warnings in their home’s bathroom. It doesn’t take a psychologist to pick up on the thinly veiled resentment between them, bubbling beneath the surface. Mom Diane (Vinessa Shaw) and dad Robert (Pat Healy) can barely stand to interact with each other, at least not without passive aggression. Teen Melissa (Sierra McCormick), true to her age, clings to her phone, hoping to resolve a pre-storm conflict. Then there’s the innocent of the bunch; youngest child Bobby (John James Cronin). The family turmoil erupts with the dawning realization that they’ve been trapped inside without food or a signal. More worrisome is that something seems to be lurking outside the walls, playing twisted games with them. Did the storm bring something otherworldly in, or is this some bizarre reckoning?
The movie opens and closes solely within the confines of this bathroom, save for brief flashbacks, meaning that the heavy lifting of telling this nihilistic domestic nightmare belongs to the actors and the viewer’s imagination. It’s a character-driven story that focuses on family conflicts and their inability to connect with the outside world. The outside world occasionally finds a way in, creating a new frightening scenario for the foursome to confront. The more precarious the situation becomes, along with a clear sense that something’s supernaturally amiss, the more unhinged the players grow. It’s not just the suspense and claustrophobia that coils tighter, but the mean-spiritedness laced with insidiously dark humor. O’Grady entrenches the viewer further with a fourth-wall-breaking gag that entails a Rick Astley tune as if to suggest this is one diabolical prank on the audience.
O’Grady delivers one magnificently executed scare that elicits instant chills and sears itself into your skull. Truly, it’s unforgettable and probably worth the price of admission alone. Bonus tip, read the end credits for a surprising credit reveal behind this memorable bone-chilling moment.
The downside is that those who favor some explanation or tidy conclusions will find themselves utterly perplexed. We Need to Do Something isn’t interested in offering any definitive answers, only suggesting mere possibilities. Nor does it seem to want its characters to do something; a line near the beginning serves to reason why this foursome doesn’t extend as much effort as you’d think in breaking free from their makeshift prison cell. But that, combined with other narratively convenient choices, stretches plausibility after a while.
This is a case where the parts are far greater than their sum. There’s not much meat on this story’s bones, and what it does have feels borrowed. Still, McCormick more than capably captivates and commands your attention, offering a layered performance against a streamlined concept. O’Grady’s debut is innovatively crafted and provides a grab bag of horror. From gross-out gags, bloodletting, and a thrilling level of unpredictability. Above all, We Need to Do Something fearlessly takes risks, unwilling to play it safe.
We Need to Do Something made its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and is currently slated to release in theaters and PVOD on September 3, 2021.