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  THE TRIGGER EFFECT

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 Package
     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.

The Story
     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 looting.
     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 gunpoint.

The Direction
     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 thrillers (see 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.

 
Vital Statistics

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
 

     

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