Producers: Bill Stertz, Josh Malerman, Ryan Lewis and Peter Block   Director: Sean King O’Grady   Screenplay: Max Booth III   Cast: Sierra McCormick, Vinessa Shaw, Pat Healy, Lisette Alexis and John James Cronin   Distributor: IFC Films

Grade: C

A troubled family faces a desperate situation in Sean King O’Grady’s “We Need to Do Something,” a claustrophobic little thriller, based on a 2020 novel by Max Booth III, that aims for shivers and shocks but is more likely to elicit nervous giggles and inadvertent yawns.

The threat of a terrible storm, perhaps a tornado, convinces dad Robert (Pat Healy) to shepherd his dysfunctional family—wife Diane (Vinessa Shaw), teen daughter Melissa (Sierra McCormick) and ten-year old Bobby (John James Cronin)—into a bathroom to wait out the bad weather.  But when the winds strike, they knock a tree against the door, making it impossible to escape the room.

Robert has been smoldering from the very start—he’s a volcanic personality, apparently alcoholic and at least mildly abusive—and he suspects that Diane might be having an affair, something that repeated calls on her cell phone before it conks out suggest could be true.  She’s much more composed than her husband, but still irritated that Melissa, a rebellious young thing with glittery pink hair, has been so late getting home.  Owlish Bobby, on the other hand, seems fairly well adjusted, though somewhat quiet and withdrawn.

After the family is trapped, matters deteriorate quickly.  Cut off from the outside world, their dynamic becomes increasingly fraught, especially as strange occurrences accompany the realization that no help is coming and they get hungrier and thirstier.  Sounds from outside suggest that some creature is scuttling about, and noises like rasping voices are terrifying.  Rattlesnakes find their way into the room, leading to frantic efforts to evade them.  When help apparently shows up, it’s abruptly taken away again.

Melissa is especially unnerved by it all.  Flashbacks indicate that she and her goth girlfriend Amy (Lisette Alexis) have been dabbling in black magic, and the ostensibly supernatural threats confronting the family might be the result.

There are moments in the movie that work fairly well. The sequences with the snakes are nicely captured by cinematographer Shane Patrick Ford, even if Jean-Philippe Bernier’s editing tends to extend them unduly.  Another sequence, in which Robert tries to push Bobby through the too-small crack in the door, is even more effective.  An episode near the close raises the specter of cannibalism in a grimly unsettling way.  Amy Williams’ production design features a bathroom that would not have been out of place in the Overlook Hotel, the practical effects are okay if unexceptional, and David Chapdelaine’s score adds the needed note of menace.

In the end, though, the picture is hobbled by a lack of depth in characterization and performances that more often embrace exaggeration than subtlety.  It also suffers from a general feeling of throwing everything into the mix arbitrarily, as if the makers hadn’t decided whether they wanted to fashion a tense psychological thriller or a schlocky horror movie; and by a resolution that’s anything but. 

“We Need to Do Something” shows that O’Grady is skilled at deploying standard genre tropes, but whether he can move beyond them has yet to be determined.