As if timed to hurricane season, “We Need to Do Something” kicks off with a family of four riding out a storm in a big suburban bathroom. Then it turns out that the weather forecast is not the issue: the family’s antsy teenager, Melissa (Sierra McCormick), may have sort of unleashed the forces of hellfire through black magic high jinks with a schoolmate.
Ill-advised incantations are an All-American horror pastime — “The Gate” (1987), in particular, remains burned in my brain — but the gambit here is to lock us into a single room. The pressure cooker is on: the alcoholic father (Pat Healy) hectors the mother (Vinessa Shaw), while guilty panic leaves Melissa a wreck. Flashbacks reveal some generic hexxing against a gross guy by her and Amy (Lisette Alexis), the dully intense goth she hooked up with. Melissa’s little brother, Bobby (John James Cronin, possessed by the spirit of Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”), is the story’s innocent bystander.
Confinement is a classic testing ground for a horror director (there’s even a genre: the haunted house). Sean King O’Grady, making his debut feature, stirs together parental menace, teenage malaise and creature effects (one tedious, one absolutely delicious). The power of suggestion is the chosen method for the chaos outside — offscreen voices and noises — but despite some nifty freak-outs, the movie’s buildup can lack a certain snap.
The anxieties of pandemic quarantine were apparently an inspiration for the film, but what might come to mind as well are the bunker sequences of postapocalyptic nuke dramas. Some viewers, especially city folk, might simply marvel at the downright shocking expanse of the suburban bathroom.
We Need to Do Something
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.
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