We Need to Do Something Is a Vicious Family Nightmare

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You thought quarantining inside your entire house for a year was like living in a prison? Producer Sean King O’Grady makes his narrative directorial debut brewing an apocalyptic nightmare of familial collapse within a full bathroom in We Need to Do Something. Even before being forced into a single room (let alone the place where we relieve ourselves and get ready in the morning), the central family of the film seems doomed with dysfunction. Adapted from Max Booth III’s 2020 novella by Booth himself, the film may or may not be precious with the source material, but it does ask audiences to color in what they think is happening, or rather why it’s happening. There are no easy answers handed on a silver platter, and yet the journey of not knowing what will happen next allows director O’Grady to get pretty vicious and horrific.

With a thunderstorm raging and tornado warnings alerting them on their phones, a family takes cover inside their home bathroom. Tensions, however, are already brewing. Angsty punk daughter Melissa (Sierra McCormick) just wants to get in touch with her girlfriend; her younger brother, Bobby (John James Cronin), is afraid that the house will get picked up by the tornado; Mom (Vinessa Shaw) and Dad (Pat Healy) seem to resent each other; Diane keeps receiving calls from someone (perhaps a lover) but tries keeping her kids calm, while Robert just keeps drinking himself to his heart’s content out his travel coffee mug until the storm passes. When the power goes out and Robert discovers a tree is blocking their only escape, all they can do is sit and wait. But is whatever’s happening outside more than a storm? Is it the end of the world as they know it, and is it something Melissa and her girlfriend conjured?

The family stand in seeming disgust, mentally trying to piece it all together.

Following a metal score of doom over the title card, We Need to Do Something flashes back to the afternoon before the storm when Melissa meets her now-girlfriend Amy (Lisette Alexis), who cuts herself and may practice black magic. But, first and foremost, the film begins and closes inside that bathroom. Whether or not what Melissa and Amy get caught up in has anything to do with the storm outside will just have to be left for the viewer to find out. Predominantly staging most of the action inside that one room (which actually started as a garage), director Sean King O’Grady takes a bit to find his footing, setting up the characters’ relationships. But pretty soon, he and cinematographer Jean-Philippe Bernier sustain a claustrophobic tension. Until a little more blood enters the room (and there is a red-filtered blood shower for good measure), O’Grady takes the “less is more” approach.

There is one scare that is so simple and suggestive but so incredibly unnerving and difficult to shake. It involves a panting dog on the other side of the door and that’s all that will be said about that, except that the power of suggestion and effective sound design can be a godsend in a smaller-budgeted piece. Just be on the lookout for a famous musician’s voice winding up in the end credits.

This is decidedly an actor’s showcase for Sierra McCormick, John James Cronin, Vinessa Shaw, and Pat Healy to do most of the heavy lifting. Every member of this family has his or her stuff, and all four actors pull their weight and are up to the task of reacting to this extreme situation. Even before things all go to hell, McCormick, Shaw, and Cronin particularly create a credible family dynamic in their downtime of playing cards and needling each other over eggs only being for old people. McCormick, first seen in last year’s alien-invasion throwback The Vast of Night and most recently appearing in FX’s anthology series American Horror Stories, just keeps proving her versatility; what’s more, she has an unfakable talent of looking genuinely scared.

Healy, meanwhile, cranks it up to 100. His performance is big but warranted as functioning alcoholic father Robert, looking like he just got home from a tedious nine-to-five, rages like a storm and downs mouthwash if it’s the only form of alcohol he can find. Sure, we don’t much like Robert, but Healy at least makes this character fascinating to watch in his every move motivated by anger and selfishness.

Sierra McCormick standnig scared, seemingly looking into the pit of what's causing her fear.

“Most things come to an end, don’t they?” foreshadows Robert, who’s clearly referring to his marriage with Diane and inevitably about to transform into a Jack Torrance. Little did Robert know that he and his family would find themselves in a waking nightmare where there’s no fire exit. Once the in-fighting escalates—and a poisonous snake slithers its way in through the door—it’s clear that We Need to Do Something is ultimately about the disintegration of a family with no happy ending on the horizon. With a pinch of dark humor here and there, it almost plays like a comparably more playful yet extremely bleak and quasi-supernatural chamber drama to Trey Edward Shults’ grim, dread-filled and fatalistic It Comes at Night.

Not every film here on out needs to remind us all of the fresh hell that was those 18 months during the pandemic, but this is surely one that will make you want to run outside for some air afterward. This is a minimalist slow burn that manages to coil and bite like a snake, and one will be hard-pressed to predict where any of it will go from scene to scene. Black-hearted and bleak, yet poignant, We Need to Do Something is an assured little debut. It may end abruptly in medias res, which won’t satisfy all, but all things must come to a nihilistic end…

IFC Midnight is releasing We Need to Do Something in select theaters and on VOD on September 3, 2021.


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Written by Jeremy Kibler

Jeremy is a film graduate from Penn State University, an Online Film Critics Society member, and altogether a film obsessive. He lives to watch the latest horror releases and write about them.

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