Directed by Ryan Smith
Written by Ryan Smith and Jason Parish
After is a unique kind of horror picture. There are no zombies, possessed children, murderous hillbillies, or deranged sharp-object-wielding maniacs. There are no jump scares, torture porn, or unneeded found footage shaky cam. No, After is a horror picture with a more frightening premise, a more palpable reason to be afraid. In Ryan Smith’s After, there’s nothing to fear but fear itself.
The story follows Freddy and Ana (Steven Strait and Karolina Wydra), two strangers who meet one night on an otherwise empty bus ride home. After a few awkward and clumsy attempts to hold a meaningful conversation, the bus is abruptly involved in a horrific accident. Ana wakes up a couple months later and finds the town abandoned, except for Freddy, who lives a few houses down the street. As they venture around town looking for clues, they stumble upon peculiar artifacts from their past and a wall of black, ominous fog.
As the story unfolds, we’re presented with the possibility of alternate or parallel dimensions, but in fact, the clue is really in the title (warning: spoilers ahead). As the title would implicitly suggest, Freddy and Ana are either comatose or ‘dead’, inhabiting a certain mode of afterlife or out-of-body experience known as purgatory. The ‘sins’ that keep them there aren’t really sins in the accepted notion of the word; they represent an elegy for all the regrets, shattered dreams, and failures in their lives.
As we later find out, Ana is a failed playwright suffering from guilt that stems from the untimely death of her aunt, while Freddy was a self-absorbed, comic-obsessed boy who led a life that hurt the people around him. The subconscious angst that followed the two as adults manifest in the two central hindrances in their purgatory – both relating to aspects from their childhood – and are obstacles that Ana and Freddy need to overcome in order to ‘move on’. Perhaps, this is best exemplified by the movie’s reference to The Night of the Hunter, a film about children fleeing from broken homes and an evil presence.
In terms of technical aspects, After is exceedingly atmospheric, with a dark, lugubrious colour palette, but the sound design, however, could’ve benefited from a more subdued and disquiet musical score. The acting is quite competent, with chemistry set up from the very beginning, but more than anything else, After is a refreshing horror picture that’s as much psychosocial as philosophical.
– Justin Li
The 7th annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs from October 18-26. For a complete schedule and ticket information, please visit the offical website.