Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review: After

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2017
Images from the Internet

Directed by Ryan Smith
Seabourne Pictures / Quite Quick Productions / Magnetic Dreams /
M.O. Pictures / MVD Visual
90 minutes, 2012 / 2017

When I first heard the title of this horror thriller, I was honestly a-feared that it might be one of those post-rapture Left Behind dreck kinds of things. Considering our society is being currently run and overrun by people who think the earth only 6000 years old and probably flat not only makes that a real possibility, but also, puh-leeeze. Thankfully, I was wrong, Amen.

The film starts off calmly enough, with two people sitting on a bus, being the only passengers. They only start to get to get introduced to each other (she’s really not into him), though they find out they live a few blocks from each other, when the bus crashes (off-camera).

When she awakes in her own bed, she heads off to work at the hospital and finds she’s the only one there in the entire building. Soon she realizes it’s not just there, but the entire town. She finds the dude, who is apparently in the same situation, so they go searching for answers together.

This may sound familiarly like the 1964 “The Twilight Zone” episode written by Earl Hammer Jr., “Stopover in a Quiet Town,” but that is where the similarity ends. Luckily, Jason Parish and director Ryan Smith’s story takes a different tack from that episode into something pretty unique, albeit familiar, as it does seem more like something Stephen King might take to write in about 800 pages.

While searching through their small town, secrets of their past will come to light, giving clues to how to possibly get out of the situation. They do figure out pretty quickly what is the outcome of the mystery, but not the how to beyond it. That’s what the plot is for, of course.

George (Steven Strait) is a film projectionist who draws comic books on the side, which he has done from his youth. Ana (Karolina Wydra, from “True Blood” and “House”; her look reminds me a bit of Andrea Marcovicci) is a nurse who dreams of being a fantasy writer. Well, first of all, that makes a strong combination if they pitch their tents together going forward. I know a writer who recently married a comic artist (Hey, JD and Kris!), and their co-work is phenomenal. But I digress…

As their bodies flash back to a time when they were children in the same town of Pearl, they watch themselves on the same day of consequential events, and try and figure out the clues. Meanwhile, the town is surrounded by a wall of smoke that starts to tighten its grasp, giving them just a few days to work it all out.

When they are in the present with the clouds looming, the film has a blue-hued, drab, colorless look to it. When they have moments in the past, viewing themselves, friends and relations (especially her aunt, played by character actor Sandra Lafferty, who you will probably recognize from The Hunger Games or the Johnny Cash bio-pic Walk the Line), the colors are bright. This reminds me a bit of the Richard Matheson 1988 novel, What Dreams May Come, where Purgatory is similarly gray.

Filmed in a few towns, all with two hours of Birmingham, it makes sense that this would be hellish. Okay, that’s kind of an inside joke as one of my best friends just moved to that state from Brooklyn; I really don’t have an opinion.

There is a strong fantasy element running throughout the picture, even beyond the mysterious flashbacks and literal encircling black cloud hanging over them. The two examples I’ll share is a magical wooden door just outside the evil cloud ring with a key that needs to be found, to a smoke monster that longs to kill the two that is on a chain that’s half a mile long before, they figure out how to get in the doorway.
Let’s get a bit to the nitty gritty of it. The smoke monster, as it roams around the city hunting them, looks kinda cool but definitely has a digital effect to its movement. That being said, when shown in close-up, it’s great. There isn’t much blood throughout (i.e., less then you’d see in a typical television crime drama), but that’s okay because this is more story-oriented.

Being story-driven rather than effects-focused (not that there aren’t SFX, such as the cloud and monster) was a smart move. This brings the person-ability of the two characters more to the forefront, making us care about them. After (no pun intended) seeing so many films filled with blood and guts in graphic detail, it’s nice to see one that is more simplistic in its approach, relying more on what is happening than how it is happening, if that makes any sense.

Except for some trailers to other films (not this one), there are no extras, but I do have one question, and one complaint (what can I tell ya, I’m crotchety). First, the question: what happened to the bus driver after the accident, who is never seen nor mentioned later? It would have been cool if he was the smoke monster, but that’s never really put out there. The complaint is that the incidental music by Tyler Smith is just way too overwrought and emotional Lifetime Television sappy orchestration.

This film was a bit of a eye-opener to me. I didn’t know what to expect from the name or cover, but it certainly came as a pleasant and enjoyable surprise. And there is a bit after the credits, for those who watch those things, as I do.

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