The Trigger Effect Kyle MacLachlan, Elizabeth Shue, and Dermot Mulroney star in this West Coast power-outage thriller. Telephones, broadcast signals, and all things electric flicker out in seven US states, but all 50 states become targets of writer/director David Koepp's social themes. Koepp, author of scripts for Apartment Zero and Carlito's Way, asserts several nicely focused messages about our society's lack of trust in team work and neighbors, as well as our reliance on the immediate sense of protection firearms provide. Koepp also makes his directoral debut here, revealing a sharp eye for drama, yet making less than satisfactory use of his locations. The final product is a thoughtful picture that is unusual for its genre.
This is a complicated story. The story begins with a tiff at a local movie house between a young couple and a pair of men over a spilled soft drink. The scenario is staged in such a way that we have difficulty understanding the gradual rise in hostilities between the two parties, and begin to wonder if they themselves understand the discord.
After this apparent non-event, the couple go home. Matt and Annie (the couple, played by MacLachlan and Shue) awaken having lost operation of all household utilities, including television and radio. Annie discovers that their infant girl has another ear infection, so Matt goes to local pharmacy to get the child's usual antibiotic. There, Matt is involved in yet another altercation.
He and Annie are soon joined by Joe (Mulroney), an old friend who brings rumor of looting and shootings going on in the city. Annie suggests a sort of slumber party for the three adults. Koepp then uses a sexual tension between Joe and Annie to magnify the miscommunication in Matt and Annie's marriage.
Events get wilder still, so these three decide that their neighborhood is no longer safe, and hit the road to escape the city. Several characters pass up opportunities to place their trust in others-- decisions that always lead to the worst possible scenario.
Koepp says his concern was with the role of masculinity in the modern age. His point is made clear when Matt gets called a stud twice; once when he steals from a store, and a second time as congratulations for his purchase of a rifle. Koepp's narration suggests that harmony is found only when opposing forces find the courage to lay down their arms and solve problems together.
In a larger context, he feels that such teamwork is also the requirement of a society so dependent on technologies that may fail without warning, the very setting of his picture. Our society has become so technologically advanced that no one person can fully grasp how everything works, he cautions. We must trust other people to understand and maintain the devices that affect so much of our lives. The alternative, as he warns during the film's opening shot of wolves tearing at a carcass in the moonlight, is a more primitive existence than most of us would choose.
While Koepp's themes are propelled gracefully, the story itself becomes a bit of a tease. Each sequence feels like a prelude to terror of epic size. And once the main characters enter the broader landscape of the countryside, Koepp has his canvas for enlarging his storytelling. Instead, he shrinks the drama, and we feel as if we're watching a modern morality play rather than a film.
Nevertheless, The Trigger Effect will never lose your interest. Koepp's clever commentary on our relationship to both guns and neighbors is more satisfying than themes typically found in today's thrillers. The troupe, which includes Bill Smitrovich, Michael Rooker, and Richard T. Jones, furthers the cause with believable portraits of panic.