My father and I were the two people to pay and see David Koepp’s gripping directorial debut The Trigger Effect back in the late summer of 1996. Koepp, one of the most successful “blockbuster” screenwriters in the business (Spider-Man, Jurassic Park, Carlito’s Way, Snake Eyes, Mission: Impossible, Panic Room, War of the Worlds), also happens to write and direct underrated, mid-budgeted thrillers (Stir of Echoes, Secret Window, and Premium Rush are other fun, disposable genre entries that are light on pretension and high on style), and this film is definitely his best. Starting with a deliriously awesome tracking shot that would make Brian De Palma blush, the compelling scenario centers on a mysterious (and never explained because it’s not important) electricity black-out that hits Los Angeles, and how the various characters strewn about the narrative deal with the mounting problems and consequences from their increasingly desperate actions. The always excellent Kyle MacLachlan stars alongside an in-her-prime sexy Elizabeth Shue as husband and wife, with the shifty and engaging Dermot Mulroney as their intriguing friend, with Koepp’s twisty, Hitchcockian script taking them outside the presumably safe confines of their comfortable home and out onto the perilous road, looking for reinforcements, medicine, and safe passage. Michael Rooker turns up in an absolutely electric mid-plot set-piece, and gives the film his usual brand of intense menace and macho bravado, and Richard T. Jones has some incredibly effective scenes during the last act.
Working with the exceptional cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (Three Kings, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), Koepp gets a great mix of gritty and slick, with some terrific long takes (again – the opening tracking shot inside of the mall and movie theater is tremendous) and astute use of composition within the frame at all times. Jill Savitt’s editing is the epitome of crisp and clean, and James Newton Howard’s creepy score jangles the nerves in all the right places. Seriously – this movie is grotesquely unsung and totally forgotten about – and it’s the sort of unpretentious thriller that Old Hitch would have ADORED. And besides, it goes without saying, Koepp wrote Bad Influence for Curtis Hanson – he gets an automatic lifetime pass! The film is available on widescreen/anamorphic DVD (no Blu-ray yet…!) and on Amazon HD Streaming. This is one to track down if it escaped you 20 years ago(!)