It’s rare that a trailer conveys the tone of a movie successfully without giving major spoilers. If you liked the trailer for Ryan Smith’s debut feature After, however, you should certainly like the movie. It’s a strong start to what will hopefully be a successful writing and directing career.
Two strangers—Ana and Freddy—meet on a bus trip. The bus crashes and when we next see Ana, things are not exactly what she (or we) expect. The townspeople of Pearl seem to have disappeared overnight. Ana goes to Freddy’s house to see if he is still around and finds that he’s been grappling with the mystery, too.
And then there’s the mist, a swirling, opaque black cloud that is quickly encroaching upon the town. It’s not like the mist from the film of the same name, though; it’s more like how I imagine The Black Thing from Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time to look. After shares a similar mysterious quality with L’Engle’s children’s book as well, causing me to wonder if it might not have been part of the inspiration for the story.
In a movie where everyone except two people has vanished, much of the film’s weight must be carried by Ana (Karolina Wydra) and Freddy (Steven Strait). Thanks to a well-written script and great performances by the two lead actors, After is a qualified success in that department. Although we see things unfold as the characters do, the exposition is kept to a minimum; Ana and Freddy spend a lot of time speculating on what could be causing the mist to close in on them and why the only people they can see appear in a kind of virtual reality and can’t see or hear them.
Smith and director of photography Blake McClure do an excellent job of portraying these two different worlds. The film opens with the bus trip during what is obviously dawn or dusk. As the film progresses and the strange events occur, this lighting technique continues. Whether it was accomplished with filters or clever lighting, it gives the film a wonderfully spooky atmosphere. The quasi-dream or flashback scenes are shot in full light and the shifting between these two realities is subtle and well done.
Smith also seems to have been influenced by films that throw male and female protagonists together romantically early on as a shortcut to obtain the audience’s interest by doing the exact opposite. It reminds me of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie in which the male and female leads basically hate each other until they realize they only have each other. It’s another refreshing change of pace, even if at times Ana and Freddy’s antagonism towards each other might seem a bit overplayed, it could be chalked up to the bad experiences both characters have endured (which are revealed as the movie progresses).
The score by Tyler Smith is melodramatic and orchestral and only rarely layered on too thickly. One particularly memorable (and funny) scene includes an excessively loud stereo, which may or may not be a comment on the more typical over-the-top clichéd horror movie music.
For a movie so visually and thematically dark, After is surprisingly witty. A lot of this is due to the terrific acting from both Strait and Wydra. Their relationship feels realistic and natural; by the time the stakes are raised to almost impossible heights, we realize how much we truly care about these two.
After isn’t a bona fide horror film, although there is one horrible creature in it. I’m not sure if budgetary reasons were behind utilizing CGI instead of more practical effects, but the monster looks a little choppy and unrealistic (although it still looks like something that should be avoided). However, this could be intentional since most of the movie takes place in a fantastic, alternate universe.
What’s most remarkable about After, besides the impressive acting from the two leads, is that its tone is consistent and there is no twist ending. Nothing is ever fully explained, but that’s the point. We are allowed to come to our own conclusions. After is not so much a fantasy thriller as it is a story about two people who just happen to meet under fantastic, thrilling circumstances. It’s different from your average horror or fantasy film and because of that it’s definitely worth a look.
After opened in limited release on September 14. Check the movie’s Facebook page for details on future screenings and home video release dates.