Cinematic Releases: We Need to Do Something (2021) - Reviewed

Courtesy of IFC Midnight
From the poster of a bloody frightened eyeball by IFC Midnight, one would get the sense director Sean King O’Grady’s directorial debut We Need to Do Something is giallo leaning fare.  In reality the film based on the novella by Max Booth III who adapted it into a screenplay himself is a deliberately suffocating chamber piece concerning a family of four who take shelter in their bathroom during a tornado only to find themselves trapped when a tree blocks the door.  It’s minimalist filmmaking in the truest sense and like Gaia before it relies heavily on our imagination of what lies beyond the door leading to freedom. 

Pink-haired disaffected teenager Melissa (Sierra McCormick), also secretly a cutter in a relationship with her goth-witch girlfriend Amy (Lisette Alexis), is the most-sane of this bunch of dysfunctional miscreants.  Including but not limited to abusive and domineering alcoholic father Robert (Pat Healy), an annoying younger brother Bobby (John James Cronin) and her mother Diane who may or may not be cheating on her husband, soon this foursome grow increasingly desperate with no food or way out and no privacy.  When poisonous snakes start creeping in and Robert starts drinking Listerine, madness and potential murder gradually begins to set in.  Moreover, Melissa herself begins to wonder whether or not her witchy girlfriend who conducted a blood ritual with her at one point might have something to do with her newfound entrapment.
Shot entirely in secret on a soundstage located in Michigan at the height of the pandemic, the film though based on a preexisting work adapted prior to COVID-19 wound up drawing influence from the effects of being boxed in during the lockdown and whether it means to or not serves as an allegory for our trying times.  As such, the film starts out intensely and grows increasingly heavy as the circumstances grow more dire.  And yet despite a nerve-wracking score by William Hawkins Finn and wonderfully claustrophobic cinematography by Jean-Philippe Bernier, one gets the sense at the heart of this nightmare is a class clown ready to put one over the audience.

Including but not limited to a demonic voice of some sort of “creature?” voiced by Ozzy Osbourne and very prominent on-the-nose use of Taco’s 1983 cover of Puttin’ On the Ritz on the film’s soundtrack, despite how awful things get you feel the film’s tongue firmly planting itself in cheek, inviting you to just laugh off the whole thing as a snarky affront.  But that’s not to say the viewing experience is something to shrug off.  

The performances from all five cast members, particularly Pat Healy, are very strong with Healy going out on a madcap limb as the mounting pressures of being trapped with his family become too much for him.  Sierra McCormick represents a strong young lead, tasked with navigating the character Melissa’s own neuroses through her already highly dysfunctional family.  And of course Vinessa Shaw is no stranger to horror having been in both Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut as well as Alexandre Aja’s remake of The Hills Have Eyes.

A lean, mean microbudget indie machine that exploits its budgetary and technical limitations very well, We Need to Do Something offers a glimpse into the feelings we all experienced during the 2020 lockdowns and how helpless we felt at the height of it.  On the other hand, somewhere along the way a gremlin shows up sticking his tongue out and making raspberry sounds, daring you to detach yourself and find this whole ordeal mordantly funny.  That observation may frustrate some viewers, not unlike the wolfman detour Ken Russell’s Altered States takes mid-picture, but in the end We Need to Do Something makes for a halfway decent exercise in chamber piece tension about what might happen when we’re all boxed in together with no escape.

--Andrew Kotwicki