We Need to Do Something had its UK première at Celluloid Screams 2021
“Hell is other people,” wrote Jean-Paul Sartre in No Exit (Huis clos, 1944), his play about a trio of ideologically incompatible people trapped in a room together for eternity. A similar principle underlies Sean King O’Grady’s We Need To Do Something, adapted from Max Booth III’s 2020 novel of the same name, although here the infernal prisoners are not strangers, but a family. Alerted by community sirens and text messages of a coming storm, teen emo Melissa (Sierra McCormick) takes shelter with her mother Diane (Vinessa Shaw), father Robert (Pat Healy) and little brother Bobby (John James Cronin) in their home’s large, reinforced bathroom. As Bobby foreshadows witchery by expressly referencing the tornado that opens The Wizard Of Oz (1939), Melissa keeps desperately trying to text her gothy girlfriend Amy (Lisette Alexis) – but then the lights go out, there is a loud crash, and the room’s only door becomes blocked by a fallen tree. There is no way out – and soon Melissa will be posing the existential question, “Have we always been here?”
“It’s not the end of the goddam world!”, Robert reassures his terrified family during the storm. Maybe he is not quite right, though. After all, where normally one would expect help eventually to come from outside, here none does. Instead, the family’s now diminished space gets invaded by an extremely aggressive rattlesnake, and other, more inexplicable things (one voiced by Ozzy Osbourne, who is also namechecked in the script for his onstage bat-biting antics). Even bigger threats come from within. For in this claustrophobic, foodless environment, tensions between Robert and Diane emerge – his alcoholism, appetitiveness and anger issues, her adultery. Meanwhile Melissa grows increasingly anxious that the witchy spells (shown by a series of flashbacks) in which Amy had involved her in the days leading up to the storm – spells initially designed to punish misogynistic, bullying boys at school – might be behind this intimate, internalised apocalypse that all are now having to face together.
O’Grady’s film plays out in part as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), with its bad, mad dad, and in part as Frank Darabont’s The Mist (2007), with its panic-inducing pandemonium. For this is a bleak, cabin-feverish portrait of a family – and a world – in irrational, possibly terminal breakdown. The real kicker here is that, like Christian James’ Stalled (2013) – but without the toilet humour – We Need To Do Something confines all its genre materials to a single bathroom. Here these four are trapped in an environment that risks reducing them to their basic bodily functions, even as they cling to the hope and humanity represented by the world beyond – or at least by their idea of that world as it once was. Here comfort and consolation do not start at home, even if perhaps they end there – and the blind, bloody patriarchy that Robert embodies with escalating grotesquerie is as much a source of danger as of stability for the fragile clan that he ostensibly heads. Yet if Melissa’s relationship with Amy may have left her empowered, the revolution, implicitly global, which that empowerment sparks is not something which Melissa had ever anticipated or wanted.
“Everything’s going to be ok,” is Diane’s refrain in We Need To Do Something, and her words become, in the end, an expression of optimism passed down from mother to daughter, in a world – or at least a tiled microcosm – whose menfolk have been eliminated. Yet coming out in a period of pandemic when we have all had to spend time confined in close quarters with our immediate families, O’Grady’s film confronts us with the possibility that things are not going to be ok, that there is nothing out there any different from or better than what is in here, and that hell is indeed other people. Faced with the sexual inequalities which impact on Melissa both at school and at home, and which are ingrained in our society, we really do need to do something – but perhaps, upon reflection, that should be something other than dabbling in witchcraft, occult rituals and devil-raising necromancy, or else we risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater and sending everything down the toilet. It is a despairing vision of an unequal world.
strap: Sean King O’Grady’s claustrophobic conjuration traps a dysfunctional family together in a bathroom during amid pandemonium outside
© Anton Bitel