The Trigger Effect

(David Koepp, USA, 1996)


For quite a while in the ‘90s, there were few good movies about that most pervasive and niggling of contemporary emotions aggro. (The unsung Impulse, 1984, remains the best film on this topic.)  Falling Down (1993) went all preachy and grandiloquent on the subject, but David Koepp's directorial debut The Trigger Effect stays close to the unnerving tensions simmering underneath the suburban everyday.


The film starts much better than it ends. When the power blacks out in a typical American suburb, Matthew (Kyle MacLachlan) and Annie (Elisabeth Shue) panic. Neighbours turn amoral, looting and anarchic behaviour are rife.


What's worse, our heroes are quickly infected by this collective madness and their evident marital tensions are only fuelled by the ambiguous presence of a third party, Joe (Dermot Mulroney), as they try to flee to a safer place.


Koepp (the writer of De Palma's classic Carlito's Way, 1993) fills proceedings with clever, stinging, meaningful details and references so many, in fact, that the film becomes studied and schematic. It also loses momentum sharply as it proceeds, and forfeits the possibility for a truly apocalyptic frisson, as in predecessors like The Birds (1963), Miracle Mile (1988) or Week-End (1967).


But The Trigger Effect is an uncommonly thoughtful and intricate thriller, of a kind that the American cinema rarely produced in the ‘90s.

© Adrian Martin March 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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