Tribeca 2021 Review: 'We Need To Do Something' is a traumatizing descent

Sean King O'Grady's 'We Need To Do Something' transcends its simplicity and becomes quite unsettling as a family succumbs to isolated madness.

A family waits in 'We Need To Do Something.'
(Image: © Tribeca)

What to Watch Verdict

'We Need To Do Something' starts slowly if only to amplify the madness that unleashes once nothing appears to be what it seems.


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    🐍 Pat Healy sure plays a good bastard.

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    🐍 Once the narrative loses control, it gets real good.

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    🐍 Confined, but not a detrimental smallness.


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    🐍 The pace is a bit off-balance.

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    🐍 Won't impress those who hate unknowns.

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    🐍 Far more of a simmer for a bit longer than I'd like.

We Need To Do Something is part of our Tribeca 2021 coverage.

It's a challenge to describe Sean King O'Grady's We Need To Do Something by listing comparable horror titles, which is a compliment. The cinematic adaptation of writer Max Booth III's novella is a slippery and unique hellscape that bucks convention in tight quarters. A disorienting doom(ish) metal score blends with insurmountable loss all within a suburban family's bathroom while a storm rages outside, and that's before mentioning hints of satanic panic. It's saddled with minor pacing problems, but as the title suggests, just when audiences need a burst of adrenaline, O'Grady orchestrates a shock-value energizer—one of which even features a surprise rock icon cameo that's worth discovering while end credits scroll.

As thunder rumbles and rain pours downward, mother and wife Diane (Vinessa Shaw) assembles her clan in their gaudy tiled bathroom, spacious but still stressing confinement. Husband and father Robert (Pat Healy) paces out of frustration, son Bobby (John James Cronin) geeks out about tornado severity, and pink-haired Melissa (Sierra McCormick) hides behind her phone's screen. Diane assures everyone the danger will pass, and sunshine eventually breaks through—except a tree is now blocking their escape. No matter how hard anyone pushes, the door won't budge thanks to the wedged obstacle. Hopefully help arrives before Diane's fracturing family shatters beyond repair under the weight of isolated paranoia?

The sustainability of We Need To Do Something outlasts the stuffiness of a roomier-than-anticipated bathroom design as time becomes the film's looming villain. Robert can only prop the door open a small distance, enough to survey their newly "open concept" architecture. Suspense, drama, and fearmongering surface between loved ones running low on compassion because this nuclear family is one scandal away from a mushroom cloud breakup. Robert's alcoholism leads to a strung-out curmudgeon sucking on alcohol wipes and outbursts of aggression that an accustom Diane attributes to just another Tuesday for her drunkard abuser of a useless partner—it's a horror story of domestic proportions, or at least on introductions.

We Need To Do Something plays a sinister trick on its audience because O'Grady emphasizes the slowburn, "family values" angle as a focal point until the film's true crimson colors burst with vibrance. Its opening can be laborious as characters curse and shrug their way through inoperable escape suggestions, but what can feel like a lurching deficiency becomes a more deliberate method of amplifying our first introduction to the gnarlier impressions of Booth's screenplay. Bobby's "I Spy" reveal of Checkov's rattlesnake, flashbacks to Melissa's internet spellcasting with goth girlfriend Amy (Lisette Alexis), Robert's incensed mania as withdrawal symptoms sour his personality with each passing second. There's so much more to We Need To Do Something thank lockbox skittishness and grounds for divorce. Everything from blood tethers that look straight from some bonkers Japanese midnighter to Ricky Bates Jr.'s Excision fantasy inserts to legitimate heavy metal horror solos. 

Where other smaller-scope, higher-concept indies may lose themselves to their restraints, We Need To Do Something surpasses expectations thanks to its rounded cast. When Pat Healy's problematic portrait of a bowling alley boozehound loses control, his seething rage and disconcerting unpredictability are the "Joker" card chemistry dynamics require. Whenever Vinessa Shaw says she'll slit Healy's throat next time he threatens her kin, you can sense her protective sincerity and better detect how rusted the bonds of wedlock have become. They're the incapable captains on this rudderless vessel who ensure the slightest spark could ignite an end-all brawl, which Sierra McCormick foreshadows with each flashback to the uttered revenge curse that possibly summoned an apocalypse outside. Is that a dog licking a giggling John James Cronin? Something unearthly? O'Grady only allows us to view what's inside bathroom walls, which adds to anxious universal intrigue.

Credit We Need To Do Something as one of those impossible to write about yet exciting festival discoveries that are too easy to spoil—so we remain vague. That might be frustrating as a pre-watch critique reader, but trust you'll want to experience Sean King O'Grady's nightmare at its wildest and most vividly brutal without context. A voice from behind an oak door, nature's havoc, the picturesque family outside its mantle frame showcase—Max Booth III pulls a beheaded rabbit, a gored dove, and so many other unforeseen objects from his magician's hat of a screenplay. Aside from any pacing complaints and a burner that goes from simmer to boil a bit more infrequently than hoped, there's still an ode to life's unknown horrors at its core. One that keeps redefining its rules under the chaotic redness of alarm-light cinematography—worth the price of admission and then some on ziggy-zaggy narratives alone. 

Matt Donato

Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.