Elisabeth Shue’s Most Entertaining Movie*
A mysterious power outage cripples a city and put its citizens on edge in this smart ’90s thriller starring Elisabeth Shue, Kyle MacLachlan, and Dermot Mulroney. Hollywood super-writer David Koepp made his directorial debut in The Trigger Effect, best known for writing Jurassic Park and Mission: Impossible among many other films released that decade. His list of screenplay credits in the 1990s is quite long and impressive.
Released Labor Day weekend in 1996, the small Hollywood b-movie thriller failed to light up the box office despite a taut script and engaging leads. Koepp would go on to direct Stir of Echoes, one of Hollywood’s better ghost movies. The Trigger Effect is a slick, polished Hollywood production that used ILM for effects and had backing from Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.
The basic premise attempts to ponder the nature of mankind when the rules are removed and civilization is stripped away from the confines of polite suburbia. It’s a glossy, tense extension of the classic Twilight Zone episode, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” Reflecting the reality of a post-L.A. riots America in the 1990s, unchecked paranoia and violence lead a seemingly happy couple into life-threatening danger. A blackout causes widespread chaos in this smartly crafted thriller.
…smart, genuine thriller with fine character development
…smart, genuine thriller with fine character development
Matt (Kyle MacLachlan) and Annie (Elisabeth Shue at the height of her powers) are the picture of an upper-middle class family, including a baby in tow and their huge suburban home in a quiet neighborhood. There’s unresolved tension in the marriage, possibly some regret by both parties. Elisabeth Shue is perfect as the sexy wife frustrated by their boring family life, yearning for her wilder single days.
Their mostly quiet lives are turned upside down when an unexplained power outage cripples the entire city and phone system. Stuck in a pre-Internet world with no widespread cellphone service, basic essentials quickly collapse and everything becomes a free-for-all as communication shuts down. Things go from bad to worse when something as simple as the sick baby’s prescription can’t be filled. Law and order falls apart as civilization in their area reverts to every man for himself. Even Matt gets influenced by the lawless mood sweeping the streets.
The couple’s old friend Joe (Dermot Mulroney) shows up in the middle of the blackout and soon becomes a third wheel in the couple’s unhappy dynamic. Working as a contractor, Joe is more take-charge than Matt and gives off a much more intense physical vibe. Joe suggests they need a gun to protect themselves, which inevitably leads down a dark and tense path when the inevitable conflict arises. Koepp’s screenplay is filled with suspenseful twists and turns as the drama keeps escalating.
The Trigger Effect has enough tricks up its sleeve that the characters and plot feel fresh, even if the basic premise of a blackout causing chaos has been done before. Watch for a riveting cameo by the always entertaining Michael Rooker. A smart, genuine thriller with fine character development and tension galore.
Mill Creek Entertainment licenses the 1996 thriller from Universal. Having never hit Blu-ray before, this 1080P presentation is a mild upgrade in picture quality over Universal’s own 2003 DVD.
What is clear here is that Mill Creek has used an old, dated, and underwhelming transfer for The Trigger Effect. It’s possibly the same telecine transfer struck for Universal’s old DVD from the early 2000s. It likely predates the era when studios had an eye on Blu-ray-level video quality.
While the clarity and condition are acceptable, loads of edge enhancement riddle the 1.85:1 video. Some scenes practically glow with halos. Somewhere between soft and sharp, this is not what one would call revealing resolution.
Sharing a BD-50 with another movie, Mill Creek actually delivers a serviceable AVC encode. The Trigger Effect’s 94 minutes run at video bitrates hovering around 30 Mbps. Only a few shots of chroma noise create any visible issues. Grain reproduction could be better for the Eastman Color stock, but that is likely due to the date telecine effort more than anything else.
Mildly clipped black levels lead to minor crushing and a lack of shadow delineation in certain scenes. There aren’t any real contrast issues. The Trigger Effect direly needs a new film scan, which would have produced significantly better and more film-like results than this offering.
The sole audio option is a fine surround mix offered in lossless 5.1 DTS-HD MA, a huge upgrade over the lossy audio found on the original DVD from Universal. The excellent production values translate to an early but impressive mix made for home theaters. Helicopters fly around the soundstage and gun shots are aided by dynamic LFE power. Composer James Newton Howard’s score adds a touch of class and the right amount of menace when necessary. It’s smoothly balanced and helps adds to the powerful sense of immersion.
Optional English SDH subtitles play in a white font.
Mill Creek Entertainment packages two R-rated thrillers from the 1990s together in this single-disc double-feature, both licensed from Universal. Alongside The Trigger Effect comes Body Count, the 1997 heist-gone-wrong thriller starring David Caruso and Linda Fiorentino. Neither Universal movie had ever been released on Blu-ray before this double-feature.
Body Count (84:19 in HD; 5.1 DTS-HD MA) – The movie Body Count is included with identical technical specifications as The Trigger Effect. The A/V quality is roughly similar. Decent audio but another dated, substandard transfer taken from the movie’s DVD days. (Note: screen shots for Body Count are Patreon exclusive)
The Trigger Effect Trailer (02:07 in SD)
Body Count Trailer (02:13 in SD)
*ed note: Except for Adventures in Babysitting, but I’ll let Chris have this one
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
The Trigger Effect
One of the 1990s better thrillers, David Koepp’s movie is a smartly tense vehicle for leads Elisabeth Shue and Kyle MacLachlan.
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