Director: Ryan Smith
Cast: Steven Strait, Karolina Wydra, Madison Lintz
Synopsis: When two bus crash survivors awake to discover that they are the only people left in their town, they work together to unravel the truth behind the strange events.
Ryan Smith’s After starts off with an ominously familiar ring to it as a young man named Freddy (Steven Strait — 10,000BC) and a young woman named Ana (Karolina Wydra) head for their shared hometown only for the coach on which they’re travelling to crash before they reach their destination. Ana awakens in her own home with no recollection of how she got there, but with armpit evidence that at least a few weeks have passed since that coach trip was abruptly cut short. Not only that, the town in which she lives appears to be totally deserted, and she spends a fruitless and increasingly fraught day searching for signs of life. It’s only when she hears loud rock music playing in the dead of night that she finds anybody. And who should it be? You guessed it: it’s that vaguely nerdy young man who was trying to make her acquaintance on the coach just before it crashed. So we know where we’re going with this, right? Two dead people in limbo or purgatory, trapped between the living world and whatever waits beyond. Well, to After’s credit, things don’t quite pan out that way, but the variation on this theme is fairly slight.
To his credit, Smith doesn’t bother spending too long trying to con us that we’re watching a mystery. When Ana and Freddy try to drive out of town they find their way barred by a thick black fog. Not only does this fog completely surround the town, it also appears to be slowly creeping inwards, meaning that our duo only has a few days before it completely engulfs them. What that might mean for them they have no way of knowing, but chances are it isn’t going to be good. An aborted expedition into the fog uncovers a locked door, the ground before which is littered with thousands of keys, and an unseen chained monster which understandably has Ana and Freddy hot-footing it for the comparative safety of the besieged town. A subsequent trip to the town’s deserted hospital reveals that Ana is actually in a coma, and that her life support system is due to be switched off in just three days if she hasn’t emerged from it.
Essentially, then, After is a dark fantasy which takes place inside our heroine’s damaged head, meaning the townscape in which the drama unfolds is filled with subconscious meaning, most of which is fairly obvious even to the layman. Smith fills in the blanks for us by having both Ana and Freddy experience flashbacks which gradually explain the incidents in their pasts which must be resolved before Ana can make her way back to the real world. Quite why their unresolved state is preventing her from emerging from her coma the film never really bothers to explain, which leads to the suspicion that Smith himself has no idea.
Considering Smith was working with a budget reported to be under $700,000, the effects are fairly reasonable. The monster, when it finally makes an appearance, is something of a hybrid from other movies, but looks convincing enough, and the wall of fog behind which Ana and Freddy are trapped is quite effective. Unfortunately, there isn’t really that much story here, even for a movie that lasts only 90 minutes, and some of the flashbacks in particular are padded out with unnecessary detail. The movie also throws in a twist late in proceedings which feels a little forced, but otherwise After is a modestly effective little chiller which shows no little promise from Smith.