Starring- Miranda Raison, Sam Keeley, Daniella Kertesz, Elarica Johnson, Lorna Nickson Brown
Out now on UK DVD & VOD from FrightFest Presents and Icon UK
If anything its safe to say that any plot synopsis of AFTER DEATH can not come with the proverbial spoiler warning that can be found in many reviews now (see SIGHT AND SOUND for proof) as the films central character’s are already dead, plus the title kind of gives that away as well. However what we have on offer here is an intriguing take on what happens after death pondering the age old question of whether life exists once our bag of bones has breathed its last breath and it does this in a considerably mature and impressive fashion.
A woman, Robyn (Raison) wakes up on a beach,washed up and wet and wondering where the hell she is, when suddenly a menacing almost demonic black cloud springs up and starts to pursue her. She ends up at a creaky looking old cottage meeting up with 4 other strangers, Seb (Keeley), Patricia (Johnson), Livvy (Brown) and Onie (Kertesz), who inform her that she is dead and that they are in the after life. All of them have been involved in a fatal accident at a nightclub and have found themselves in a sort of limbo, with only brief moments of loud crippling pain caused by a lighthouse beam from outside. Is this limbo or is it hell or is it a waiting room of sorts to something worse? They have to try and figure out why they are here and whether past deeds have caused them to end up in this position and also to worry about the black cloud figure that wants to possess them or stop them from attaining any chance to get back to existence.
Admittedly you can point out that the makers certainly utilise their budget to it’s advantage as rather than focus on delivering grandiose set pieces in an alternative after life universe, Medinger and Schmidt place their characters in a small location in this case a cottage. The inside of the cottage is a manifestation of key points of the characters lives mostly from childhood memories. The cast themselves work considerably well to create believable and realistic characters. At first I found some of them annoying and maybe that was the intention of screenwriter Andrew Ellard, whose script contains moments of humour peppered through the dark situation, not surprising since he previously was a scribe for RED DWARF. Though as the film progresses, soon traits start to shift, from Robyn being the managerial leadership type, and Seb being the jack the lad put upon alpha-male of the group, which allow for the characters to develop and with whom you start to emphasise with whilst being convincing and believable.
Though I will point out that Seb made the right point in somehow bringing a crate of vodka taken from the club he died in into the after life somehow (hey if your gonna be stuck in limbo you might as well bring some booze). Yet this device allows the character’s to engage in a game of truth or dare to reveal what sins they have committed in the past that may have led them to this point and this further uncovers revelations that confound our impressions of this unfortunate group. Whilst it does tackle big themes the film doesn’t leap into preachy or symbolic gestures or even religious ideas of the after life, rather finds it being grounded in something more profound, realistic in a way and makes us wonder how we would perceive what happens once we are six feet under. Most horror deals with the cause of death and can be handled a lot of the times in grim and often gory ways.
But it’s a great method that the makers have employed here that their main players are already dead, as many after life themed films would have this trait as a twist reveal at the end. This allows the filmmakers to create a world around these souls and to have them confront the head on (un)reality that they are no longer earth bound and to figure out what that evil dark cloud is and why it seems to want to harm them further. There is also an interesting trait in having the character of Onie to keep jumping in and out of the after life, as it suggests that she is possibly still alive or in a coma and that she might be the one chance to escape before the others have to face the possibility of going to the next realm which doesn’t seem all that appealing.
Credit should also be given to the cinematography and production design which manages to create a grey looking world, with a bleak landscape that has a beach that seems to have not seen any sun in years and a cottage that is perfectly framed to represent a last chance saloon so to speak for doomed souls. Whilst some of it may falter in the second part, and certain traits of the character’s become slightly one sided (particularly in the only male of the group, Seb), plus you kind of want to see more or possibly an expansion on the themes explored and the world in which its portrayed (though this might be constrained by budget), there is no denying that AFTER DEATH is an impressive début feature from Medinger and Schmidt.
Whilst life after death is not new in horror, its refreshing to see a film that handles a common theme for the genre and tackles it in an intelligent manner offering a glimpse of what might lie beyond and it’s a subject that is universally recognised in many different cultures as its obvious we do not know what awaits us. AFTER DEATH, despite a few flaws, offers a unique glimpse of the after life and is bolstered by impressive performances and a strong visual style that will make whatever project Medinger and Schmidt make next, worth checking out.