You won’t find many more misguided and excruciatingly dull features at this year’s Film4 FrightFest than Ryan Smith’s disastrous cut-and-paste job After (2012). Shamelessly plundering a number of the very best horror fantasies from recent years including Donnie Darko (2001) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), After’s wafer-thin, ludicrous plot floats from one inconsequential revelation to the next, with almost no sense of narrative drive or cohesion. If ever there was call for a ‘walk-out’, Smith’s dud may well be it.
Two mawkish, poorly drawn bus crash survivors awake from their hospital beds to discover that they are the only people left in their small, tightly-knit town. Seemingly trapped in some form of existential limbo by a thick black smog (Silent Hill anyone?), Ana (Karolina Wydra) and Freddy (Steven Strait) find themselves forming a necessary alliance in a race against time to unravel the truth behind their newly-found isolation. All the while, the pair are tracked by a mysterious chained figure, and haunted by traumatic paste events.
It’s faintly ironic that such a car-crash of a movie should begin with a cataclysmic vehicular accident, but that’s about as close as After gets to raising a smile – or any other tangible emotion for that matter. Every single scene is executed with such po-faced seriousness as to wipe away any visible trace of enjoyment from the film.
What could have been an inventive, Final Destination-esque take on the nature of mortality (and the ultimate finality of death), is instead a cheap and dreary event with pretensions far above its station. The one saving grace is perhaps its adequately-designed, monstrous antagonist, but even this shadowy creature looks like it’s been copied and pasted in from one of several other superior efforts.
A recurring scene depicting Ana’s childhood relationship with her beloved aunt tells you everything you need to know about writer and director Smith’s debut feature. This is a psychological fantasy with little up-top and even less in reserve, forced to see out its mercifully short runtime on a dull and repetitive loop. We learn little about either protagonist, feel nothing for their inter-dimensional plight and care even less about their mundane back stories; avoid After at all costs.
From 23-27 August, CineVue will be reporting back from this year’s Film4 FrightFest with a bucket-load of gruesome reviews. For more of our festival coverage, simply follow this link.