The Trigger Effect

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The Trigger Effect
Trigger effect poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by David Koepp
Produced by
Written by David Koepp
Based on Connections
by James Burke
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Newton Thomas Sigel
Edited by Jill Savitt
Distributed by
Release date
  • August 30, 1996 (1996-08-30)
Running time
94 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $3.6 million[1]

The Trigger Effect is a 1996 thriller film written and directed by David Koepp, and starring Kyle MacLachlan, Elisabeth Shue and Dermot Mulroney. The film follows the downward spiral of society during a widespread and lengthy power outage in Southern California.


Annie and Matthew, a young married couple, find their infant child screaming with a high temperature and an earache. Matthew calls the doctor, who promises to phone in a prescription to the pharmacist the following day. However, during the night, the neighborhood wakes up due to a massive power outage. When Matthew visits the pharmacist the next day, he is unable to get the required medicine due to the blackout. Matthew steals the medicine when the pharmacist is not looking.

Social unrest ensues due to the persistent blackout, leading Matthew and his wife's best friend, Joe, to buy a gun. When an intruder breaks into the couple's house during the night, the two men chase him outside, where a neighbor shoots the intruder. The neighbors conspire to cover up the fact that the deceased intruder was not armed.

As the blackout continues for days, over a massive (but undefined) area, more chaos occurs. The group decides to flee to Annie's parents' house, 530 miles (850 km) away. They do not have enough fuel to travel the whole way, so they stop by an abandoned car hoping to siphon some. A man is lying in the backseat. Joe notices that the man has a handgun, so he heads back to their vehicle to get his own shotgun. Joe aims the shotgun at the man to scare him off, but the man shoots Joe and steals their vehicle.

Matthew walks an hour to a farmhouse to try to get help for his family. The occupant refuses to help him initially, as he does not trust him. Matthew collects the shotgun and returns to the house, hoping to steal the car. Matthew breaks in to get the car keys, and a standoff ensues between the owner and him. When the man's young daughter enters the room, Matthew returns to the civility and trust that has been missing since the blackout started, lowering his weapon. The man agrees to help Matthew.

Society return to its previous normal once the power returns, though Annie, Matthew and their neighbors are somewhat different from their experience.



The Trigger Effect was released on August 30, 1996. It grossed $1.9 million on its opening weekend and opened in 12th place.[2] It went on to earn $3.6 million in the US.[1] It was released on VHS in January 1997.[3]


Rotten Tomatoes reports that 75% of 24 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 6.4/10.[4] Ken Eisner of Variety described it as "a bleak, highly stylized view of modern civilization" that is too didactic and obvious.[5] Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Koepp knows more about setting up this gripping, high-concept crisis than about where it leads."[6] Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly rated it a letter grade of B and wrote that the ending is disappointingly safe compared to the riskier narrative prior to it.[7]


  1. ^ a b "The Trigger Effect". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2016-04-24. 
  2. ^ "MORNING REPORT". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-30. 
  3. ^ Nichols, Peter M. (1997-01-31). "Home Video". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-04-24. 
  4. ^ "The Trigger Effect (1996)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2016-04-24. 
  5. ^ Eisner, Ken (1996-06-10). "Review: 'The Trigger Effect'". Variety. Retrieved 2016-04-24. 
  6. ^ Maslin, Janet (1996-08-30). "Urban Jitters Going Critical". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-04-24. 
  7. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (1996-09-13). "The Trigger Effect". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2016-04-24. 

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