Released onto British DVD by Matchbox Films back in May 2014, Ryan Smith's AFTER finally gets a US release, courtesy of MV Visual and M.O.J. Pictures.
Ana (Karolina Wydra) is a nurse, travelling home from work one night by bus. Fellow passenger Freddy (Steven Strait) starts talking to her and they soon learn they have some things in common, such as where they're from. Before long he's showing his prized sketches (he describes himself as "a projectionist by day, an artist by night").
Despite her efforts to cut their conversation short, Freddy has the front to ask Ana out for coffee sometime. She half-heartedly agrees. But then ... the bus crashes.
When she next awakes, Ana finds herself in an abandoned hospital. Wandering out into the evening air, the surrounding streets are similarly barren. Following the sound of loud music coming from a nearby house, she enters and discovers it to be Freddy's home.
Together they search for signs of life in the vicinity, but with no luck. An attempt at fleeing their hometown of Pearl in a car proves equally fruitless when they reach the town's border and a huge electrical storm in the sky ahead discourages them. It appears that all exits to Pearl are obscured by huge, thick black clouds.
Just when all hope appears to be lost, the clouds part and the sun appears. Before them, Ana and Freddy spy a diner where people sit eating and drinking. As they move closer, it seems that the diners are oblivious to Ana and Freddy's presence.
It soon transpires that our ill-fated pair has wandered into an alternate dimension and are now viewing a snippet from Ana's past - she can even see herself, as a young girl, sitting in the diner. The black clouds suddenly reappear and the duo are back in Pearl, searching for a way out of their predicament.
The weirdness continues, with more flashbacks (Freddy as a boy fielding questions from his father about being bullied at school), moments of experiencing alternate reality and even being chased by a mysterious fanged monster. Interwoven into all of this excitement, the pair hears disembodied voices discussing Ana's imminent death in three days' time. From this, they deduce that Ana is in a coma following the bus crash and has just 72 hours to decipher what all of this oddness means ... or die.
But there's more. It turns out that both Freddy's sketches and Ana's childhood journal will carry great significance in helping them unravel their conundrum.
What is it from their past that links Freddy to Ana? What is the tragedy that needs redressing to make amends? And what does that vicious toothy demon represent? All these questions will be answered in due course.
Handsomely shot, stylishly treated in post-production to some highly effective colour-correction, tautly edited and atmospherically scored, AFTER has a lot of strong technical points. However, it does suffer from a couple of notable stumbling blocks.
The first is the complete lack of chemistry between the two leads. Their relationship should mean something to the viewer before the characters realise their own connection, but unfortunately they prove too cold and distant to care for or, worse, believe. Then there's the sheer desperation of writer-director Ryan Smith's screenplay, which really wants to be original at every turn. Sadly this just results in a messy plot which lunges from one stolen moment to another: look out for ideas cribbed from JACOB'S LADDER, 28 DAYS LATER, RESIDENT EVIL, THE FALL, SILENT HILL, THE MIST...
CGI monsters are seldom scary. The creature in AFTER is no exception to this rule. Its design is distinctly of the Guillermo Del Toro variety - more fantastical than threatening.
There's very little tension as a result. Having said that, this is the second time I've viewed the film and I will say it improved on this occasion. It still has its flaws, but perhaps its positives (see above) became more prominent this time around.
MVD's DVD is region-free. It presents the film uncut and in its original 2.35:1 ratio. The picture is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Colours and blacks are a tad faded, which appears to be inherent of the film's digital origins. Still, images remain sharp and clear throughout.
English audio is provided in a pleasing 5.1 mix which bolsters the action a tad.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. There is no scene-selection menu. However, the film can be remote-navigated by way of 16 chapters.
In terms of extras, all we get are trailers upon load-up: THE HYBRID, THE MACHINE, IRONCLAD 2: BATTLE FOR BLOOD, A RESURRECTION and KNIGHT OF THE DEAD. It's worth noting that the UK disc proffers a couple of featurettes and deleted scenes.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Mongrel|