This film, about a blackout that brings out the worst in the
residents of an American city, was ignored during its initial 1996
release. I feel that now, in the wake of 9/11 and two major hurricanes
(Katrina and Sandy), THE TRIGGER EFFECT deserves a reappraisal.
THE TRIGGER EFFECT was the feature directorial debut of
the prolific screenwriter David Koepp, whose credits include CARLITO’S
WAY, JURASSIC PARK,
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL
SKULL. Of Koepp’s subsequent directorial efforts, 1999’s A STIR OF
ECHOES was (like THE TRIGGER EFFECT) an effective film that was largely
ignored, while SECRET WINDOW and GHOST TOWN are better left unseen.
On a Friday night the small town where married couple
Matthew and Annie reside is afflicted by an unexplained blackout that
lasts through the weekend. This follows an unpleasant movie theater
confrontation Matthew and Annie have with two punks that illustrates how
tenuous the limits of civilized behavior truly are.
Trouble starts Saturday morning, when Matthew tries to
get eardrops for his infant daughter and is turned away by his local
pharmacist. He winds up stealing the drops, precipitating a wave of
More trouble occurs when Annie’s miscreant ex-BF Joe
turns up. Later that night, as Joe and Annie begin to rekindle their
relationship, somebody breaks into the house. The individual in question
turns out to be the contractor who was fixing up the place, and winds up
shot to death by a neighbor.
This only increases the already simmering tension in
the neighborhood. Matthew, Annie and Joe decide to leave with the baby,
and on Sunday morning they hit the road in Joe’s car.
The trip is halted when they happen upon an armed man
in a stopped car. The guy ends up shooting Joe and stealing the car,
effectively stranding Matthew and Annie. At the end of his tether,
Matthew finds that his only recourse is to engage in petty theft at
THE TRIGGER EFFECT will never be mistaken for
Hitchcock, but in this, his first directorial outing, David Koepp has
created a gripping and suspenseful film with a reasonably strong sense
of realism. Koepp’s best work has always been in dark, tightly contained
APARTMENT ZERO and A STIR OF ECHOES for confirmation), which
THE TRIGGER EFFECT very much is. Koepp was wise to keep his focus
intimate and character-centered, and further benefits from some
evocative locations--particularly a desolate road shadowed by nuclear
reactors--and fine work from his lead performers Kyle MacLachlan,
Elisabeth Shue and Dermot Mulroney.
The film’s many Hollywood-ish elements--distracting
backlighting, overlit “night” shots, a forced happy ending--were
probably inevitable given Koepp’s big studio pedigree, and keep the
proceedings from greatness. Another problem is that for all its
effectiveness the film never quite attains the sense of tension and
coiled menace of its opening scene, set in a movie theater (specifically
the late Hollywood Galaxy multiplex) before the power goes out.
FYI, the protagonists here reside on Maple Street, a
direct reference to the classic TWILIGHT ZONE episode “The Monsters are
Due on Maple Street,” which starred Koepp’s uncle Claude Atkins. Not
that it matters.
THE TRIGGER EFFECT
Gramercy Pictures/Amblin Entertainment
Director: David Koepp
Producer: Michael Grillo
Screenplay: David Koepp
Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel
Editing: Jill Savitt
Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Elisabeth Shue, Dermot Mulroney, Michael Rooker,
Richard T. Jones, Bill Smitrovich, Tori Kristiansen, Tyra Kristiansen,
Rick Worthy, Edhem Barker, Tyrone Tann, David O’Donnell