History is full of events that challenge the notion of linear and unstoppable progress of civilisation. The line that separates "enlightened" and "civilised" people from savages is very thin and can be crossed at any moment, and things like civility and order rests on very weak and delicate and, therefore, should never be taken for granted. The Trigger Effect, 1996 disaster film written and directed by David Koepp, reminds the audience of those unpleasant truths.
The plot introduces us to Matthew (played by Kyle MacLachlan) and Annie Kay (played by Elisabeth Shue), Californian yuppie couple who have small baby and nice middle class life in Los Angeles suburbs. One night power goes out and Matthew's and Annie Kay's life begins to change, since they are obviously not accustomed to the event that would deprive them of things like traffic lights, phones, ATMs, PCs or petrol stations. Radio and TV is also out, so the only source of information for young couple comes in the form of Matthew's old friend Joe (played by Dermot Mulroney). Joe brings disturbing stories about widespread looting, robberies and riots and the trio soon sees how the nice middle-class neighbourhood degenerates into mob of paranoid trigger happy vigilantes. Faced with the increasing violence around them, trio decides to leave Los Angeles and seek shelter on the farm owned Annie's parents.
The Trigger Effect is probably one of the cheapest disaster films produced by Hollywood and good example how the very simple down-to-earth concept could lead to powerful drama. The disaster in this film is something more believable and prosaic than earthquakes, volcano eruptions and meteor strikes; most of the audience probably experienced power outage in their lives. It is only the scale and length of the power outage that causes disaster and shows how delicate the foundations of modern society are. David Koepp, screenwriter whose efforts in some 1990s Hollywood blockbusters left much to be desired, is obviously more comfortable in small, intimate stories and The Trigger Effect cleverly displays sexual, racial and social tensions that exist in "normal" lives only to rear their ugly heads in extraordinary situations. The potentially subversive premise of the film is, however, compromised with the ending that conforms to the standards of 1990s Hollywood.
Of course, The Trigger Effect suffers from other problems, some of them not being David Koepp's fault. Recent history wasn't very kind to this film and gave ample opportunities to compare David Koepp's speculations with real life. Idea of entire civilisation collapsing due to massive power failure might be intriguing, but some areas of civilised world experienced similar disasters and never succumbed to the levels of paranoia and barbarity in this film. The author of this review had similar unfortunate experiences some years ago and, in light of them, he had to suspend his disbelief more than unusual. However, even with those shortcomings, very good casting (that includes Kyle MacLachlan in one of his best post-Showgirls roles) Koepp's confident direction and the thought-provoking concept provide enough reasons for watching this film.
RATING: 6/10 (++)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.films.reviews on September 15th 2003)
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