I love the ridiculousness of so-called film lovers who whine about the lack of things to watch on Netflix. Are they just afraid to scroll through suggestions and take a chance on something without name actors? Over the last few years of the world’s most popular streaming service, I’ve seen dozens of good to great unknown movies that have proven to be more more interesting and enjoyable than most of what comes to theaters.
It’s not a science. Just scroll around, look past what’s usually terrible cover art and read a few synopses (yes, I had to Google how to pluralize that word). I guarantee you’ll find something that sounds interesting and more often than not, makes good on it.
Quick Plot: Ana (Karolina Wydra) is a somewhat grumpy young nurse returning to her small home town by bus after a solo vacation. The only other passenger is a friendly wannabe comic book artist named Freddy (Steven Strait) who, Ana discovers, has lived just a few houses down from her for most of their lives. Before you can ask how they never bumped into each other en route to the town's lone coffee shop, the bus crashes.
When Ana wakes up, the telltale signs of armpit hair growth suggest something is not quite right. It's confirmed when she heads to work and realizes it's either an incredibly quiet day at the hospital or the entire town has been abandoned. Naturally, the only other soul that seems to be occupying Pearl is the equally confused Freddy.
The pair tries to get the heck out of Dodge, but each exit point is covered in an ominous black fog that is slowly makings its way to the center of town. Adding to the mystery are a few flashback moments where both Ana and Freddy witness their young selves living out key moments from their childhood. If that's not enough, there's also a monster.
Written and directed by Ryan Smith, After is probably being mismarketed by Netflix (and possibly others) as a horror film rather than something closer to a supernatural drama. Less Population 436 and more Ink, this is a film that lures you in with a creepy last-man-on-earth setup but is far more interested in exploring broader concepts like guilt, forgiveness, and I suppose, love.
It's a good and bad thing.
After is a very smartly made movie in many of its decisions. Fairly early on, the characters address the obvious question that every audience member who spent seven years watching Lost asked every week: do you think we’re dead? (They’re not.) The film sets up its mystery well but doesn’t drag out the reveal. Our characters learn just as we’ve pretty much figured out the exact situation, leaving the second half or so to watching them smarten up and find their way home, all the while eluding a pretty uniquely designed creature.
For me, I was more interested in the current mystery than After’s “everything is connected” flashbacks, but it’s a matter of personal preference. The whole package didn’t quite come together in a way that fully won me over, but this movie had me on its side from the beginning and I definitely stayed there. It’s different, but still filled with a nice kind of heart. I dig that.
There’s something very “nice” about After in terms of its characters and their pasts. Many films that flirt with bullying could have given their characters a different kind of tragic backstory with an easy villain, but After takes a kinder, more human approach than you might expect
While the instrumental score of After isn’t bad per say, it’s so BIG that it sometimes overwhelms the more intimate story being told
End Credits Alert
Stick around for a brief but very pleasant little moment saved for the very end
Seatbelts should always be worn, even when you’re the only ones in town other than a single monster and lots of fog
Candles are great props for home theater, but safety rules about keeping them away from curtains should still apply
Always scout for a good indoor sprinkler system. You never know how it might come in handy
I liked, but didn’t quite love After and I can’t fully figure out why. For a low budget straight-to-streaming thriller, it’s so much smarter and more interesting than anyone would probably expect. The lead (and almost, only) actors are likable and interesting, the creature effects are neat, and the story has just enough freshness about it to keep the film feeling fresh. It’s a strong little movie, so long as you don’t go into it expecting a bloodfest, give it a try.