"The Trigger Effect"
Opens: Aug. 30, 1996 | Rated: R
"The Trigger Effect," a power-outage thriller starring Elisabeth Shue and Kyle MacLachlan, goes far beyond a simple "What if..." scenario trading on our dependence on technology and electrical power. It is a commentary on the underlying sense of danger and lack of trust that permeates American society.
Shue ("Leaving Las Vegas") and MacLachlan ("Showgirls") are Annie and Matthew, a deliberately average suburban couple who, at first, find a huge regional loss of power throughout the West to be merely an inconvenience. But when the outage drags on for days with no reason or repair, nervousness sets in and soon turns to paranoia.
TV and radio stations are off the air. Rumors of looting abound. A neighbor shoots a prowler and some in their cul de sac want to barricade the street. But many of the neighbors don't trust each other enough to band together.
"The Trigger Effect" will surely benefit from its timely release. Massive power outages have been common this summer and the film asks the question "What would you do if the power didn't come back on?"
Annie and Matthew decide to get out of town. But without money for gas (no ATMs, no credit card approval) they don't know how far they'll be able to go, and develop an almost instant fear of the few people they meet on the road. A broken down car on the shoulder becomes a potential source of siphoned fuel, but also poses a threat. Where is the driver? Is it a set-up? An ambush planned by someone who also needs gas?
This is a "Twilight Zone" episode that hits too close to home to ignore. Restless and uneasy throughout, and accented by lingering tracking shots and very sparse music, "The Trigger Effect" gives its audience a kernel of omniphobia that pops like popcorn in the pit of your stomach.
Even the scenes at home have a discreet tension. A old friend of Annie's (Dermot Mulroney, "Copycat") stays with them during the blackout, and Matthew doesn't trust him alone with his wife. When they hit the road together, their guest brings a gun. Everyone is on edge.
Reminiscent of something Hitchcock might do, the movie begins with tracking shot of a series of confrontations between strangers on a hot summer day. One person spills coffee on the next, who bumps into someone going in to a movie theater, which is where Annie and Matthew show up, bristling at the people behind them who talk during the movie. The shot, which is a good five minutes long, follows the hostility that passes between the strangers and sets an unsettling mood.
On more than one occasion during the road trip, the three friends almost meet up with angry ruffian who kept talking at the theater. It's a nagging coincidence that helps keep the audience nervous, even when the characters aren't.
Matthew, however, seems to always be nervous. MacLachlan plays him as a meek man who has to be forced to action. This controlled performance might keep his star from fading, as seemed likely after "Showgirls." Shue and Mulroney, whose stars are rising, are also excellent. The spark they resist between them gnaws lightly on their rattled nerves and adds another enticing layer to a well-constructed story.
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