A man and a woman meet nervously outside a comfortable suburban home at night. Neither says much to the other, but they are both anxious and nervous as they embark on their task: to break into a U.S. senator's house, where they take the senator and her husband down into the living room, guns drawn.
But what seems like a home invasion or burglary takes a shocking turn, as the man and woman essentially hold the senator and her husband hostage. As their true agenda unfolds, the senator faces her greatest challenge yet.
Directed by Tara Westwood from a script written by Thomas Gunn from his original play, this powerful, shocking short drama exerts tremendous force and intensity in its searing indictment of inaction in the face of rising gun violence. With gut-wrenching performances and gripping storytelling, it takes advantage of its compressed narrative scale to build a pressure cooker of a dramatic situation, fueled by extreme grief, anger and helplessness.
Oscar-eligible and executive produced by John Leguizamo, the film has its origins as a play, and this provenance is reflected in both the confined time and space of the narrative and the power of its dialogue, which weaves rhetoric with deeply felt, personal detail and backstory. Though essentially a scene of dialogue in one room, dynamic camera and direction never make the film feel static, and in look and feel, it's shot much like a crime thriller or drama. Each shot and cut builds suspense, charting the senator as she realizes what's happening to her, alongside the emotional disintegration of the man and woman invading her home at gunpoint.
As well-crafted as the writing and camerawork are, powerful performances by all of the cast ultimately make the film deeply human, empathetic and ultimately heart-wrenching. Westwood plays the senator, capturing the powerful veneer of a politician as it crumbles into a helpless, desperate mother, while actor Robert John Burke plays her husband and father watching his world shatter before his eyes. As the man and woman, actors Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Caitlin Mehner have the tricky balancing act of portraying people driven to extreme action by extreme emotion without losing their sense of humanity. But it works because both actors movingly convey what it feels like to suffer cataclysmic loss and be eaten alive by insurmountable grief and trauma -- suffering they feel could have been prevented and a rage they need to unleash in a ruthless, terrifying way.
In the end, the dramatic scenario of "Triggered" is an extreme one, one designed to shock and provoke. But the reason it works is that the emotions fueling it -- parental trauma and grief, rage at moral indifference in the face of greed, politics and power -- are so recognizable, relatable and real. It is a film designed to spark discussion and use outrage to fuel action, but it never forgets the trauma and suffering of the victims of gun violence, as well as the grief and fury of those left behind. One could argue that its central dramatic situation is almost speculative in genre, as well, because it speaks to a powder keg that has built up with each shooting, failed legislative attempt and ineffectual sentiment. The powder keg is set to explode, and its detonation takes a nihilistic, dystopian shape here. But it's essentially the dark side of the ideology being critiqued: taking the law into one's own hands, an eye for an eye, violence answered with violence.