A decade ago, Jeff Nichols directed Take Shelter, a remarkably prophetic, big-picture drama with Michael Shannon as a construction worker alienating his loved ones with his insistence on building a bunker in readiness for gathering storms. It may be a sign of a withering US indie sector that this far scrappier genre item aims to generate comparably doomy vibes on a single set measuring barely 40 square feet.
Adapted by Max Booth III from his own novella, Sean King O’Grady’s film unfolds primarily in a domestic bathroom, to which uptight corporate drone Pat Healy, put-upon wife Vinessa Shaw and the couple’s two children are confined after a felled tree dissects their Tornado Alley property. It’s soon clear this is one of those metaphorical bathrooms, representative of a much bigger space. Squandering any remaining resources and striving to reimpose control, Dad insists “it’s not the end of the goddamn world”. Yet we’re clearly within touching distance.
With its circumscribed focus, this B-movie scenario proves a solid platform for the always-game Healy, whose recent trajectory – from fresh-faced helpmate (The Innkeepers) via corruptible patsy (Cheap Thrills) to high-strung bully here – neatly parallels the arc of the white male in modern American cinema. There’s less to do for Shaw, passively observing as the image of maternal patience, but the Imogen Poots-ish Sierra McCormick gets a leg-up as the teenager whose life is complicated enough before Dad lobs her phone outside.
Around them, however, the dramatic limitations become swiftly apparent. Flashbacks to McCormick’s ominous liaison with a gothy pal and an Ozzy Osbourne voice cameo provide a sketchy sense of the world beyond the bathroom door. But we’re mostly stuck gawping at the ever more dishevelled shut-ins who – even amid the splatter-heavy finale – don’t entirely know what they’re up against, and remain uncertain what to do. “I guess we wait,” shrugs Healy early on, which the audience is also forced to do for long stretches. “Just hold on a little bit longer,” adds Shaw, as the hour mark ticks past.
The film might have assumed greater resonance mid-lockdown. Emerging now, it’s moderately diverting Halloween filler – earning points for reviving Taco’s electropop cover of Puttin’ on the Ritz – but still way too static to become actually entertaining.
We Need to Do Something is released on 25 October on digital platforms.