We Need to Do Something releases in theaters, digital, and VOD on Sept. 3.
You know that strange elation when your whole body bursts into trembling goosebumps? You’re terrified but you feel undeniably ALIVE! This was a treasure I found in the middle of We Need to Do Something. Like its title, this unnerving titillation promised horrors that would rattle my bones and scratch at my nerves. Frustratingly, the film fails to deliver on this promise, ultimately offering a woefully murky and underwhelming tale of family and fear.
The premise is simple: A family of four hunkers down in their house’s spacious and sturdy bathroom to wait out a raging storm. Things turn hellish when they realize they’re trapped inside. This hideous bathroom is built like a pink-tiled prison cell; its windows, walls, and doors cannot be easily busted down. So, the family needs to do something to escape before they starve. You might anticipate an Escape Room scenario, where they investigate their surroundings to strategize some way out. Instead, this clamoring clan takes turns fruitlessly pushing on the door and whining, and none of it is all that compelling.
In his feature directorial debut, Sean King O’Grady makes a bold choice by never revealing the world beyond the bathroom walls, even to show what the family spies through a crack in the door. At first, this willful omission stirs tension, leaving a gap between what we suspect and what we know lies outside. It also leads to the surprising scare that caused my giddy outbreak of goosebumps. But repetition breeds contempt. Before long, this ugly bathroom is a bore to behold. Any could-be claustrophobia is suffocated by tedium of location and lack of action. Soon, I began to wonder if O’Grady didn’t have the budget to peek beyond the door. Or was the problem a lack of imagination? Either way, he leaves us stuck inside with characters that are shallowly confined to tedious archetypes.
Indie horror star Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills) plays bad dad Robert, who is defined by his too-tight necktie — worn even when he sleeps — and a thermos of booze. Starting out at irate, Robert has nowhere to go but scowling and screaming. This is about all he’ll do aside from grasping for grim laughs by drinking ANY form of alcohol he can find in the bathroom cabinets (at least that’s somewhat Escape Room-y?) By contrast, his wife Diane (Hocus Pocus’s Vinessa Shaw) is cool as a cucumber, even when that feels wildly unlikely. But hey, at least she gets a subplot as flimsy and dull as her fuzz-bunny-colored cardigan. Meanwhile, their pesky but sweet son Bobby is played serviceably by NOS4A2’s John James Cronin. Finally, The Vast of Night’s Sierra McCormick brings wide eyes and a sulking snarl to teen daughter Melissa, whose internal drama is signaled by a goth wardrobe topped by a bubblegum pink wig.
Through flashbacks, the film clumsily explores Melissa’s life before the bathroom, which involved a surly girlfriend (Lisette Alexis) with witchy inclinations. No other family member gets flashbacks, so Melissa is steadily made the center of the story. Perhaps this is why her parents and brother are so thinly realized? Maybe screenwriter Max Booth III is establishing an unreliable narrator, placing audiences into the perspective of a self-obsessed teen, who thinks everything — even the mysterious mayhem raging beyond their porcelain prison — is ultimately about her. However, even Melissa isn’t compellingly developed. She’s a careless collection of troubled teen girl tropes, from her alternative fashion to her spooky girlfriend, to a gruesome self-harm habit. It’s as if Booth watched The Craft once and felt he now understood young women. The result is superficial and low-key insulting, mistaking calamity for complexity.
With such an unstable character base, O’Grady struggles to ground the film in Melissa’s subjective perspective. Unlike thrilling psychological horror movies like Black Swan, The Babadook, or Saint Maud, We Need to Do Something never musters a satisfying surrealness that might blur the lines between what’s real and what this troubled heroine believes. Instead, King tosses out strange offscreen sounds and clattering nightmares awash in red lighting. So, even at its end, I’m left wondering what kind of horror movie this is: psychological? Supernatural? Lovecraftian?
Whatever it might be, it’s just plain bad.