How often does a film come along that truly, deeply pisses you off? More than that: how often does a film come along that completely offends your sensibilities and repulses you to your very core? Perhaps no more frequently than masterpieces, movies that remind us why we watch movies to begin; depending on who you talk to; perhaps more often than that. But even if terrible movies open in theaters week in and week out, few of them hit so low below the belt as After, the worst kind of exploitative nonsense a person can cobble together in an editing room.
After has an immediate reference point in a movie from 4 years past; being much more specific than that would give away its big, climactic twist, but suffice to say that Allen Coulter should feel honored someone actually bothered to crib from his filmography. After pantomimes being an honest-to-goodness narrative from the very beginning; it’s stiff, stilted, and too adrift in its own comings and goings to maintain a solid focus for nearly an hour and half’s worth of plotting. There’s a groove here, but director Pieter Gaspersz is so off his bearings that he never finds it.
Instead, he leans on Lifetime flourishes to cover up his aimlessness, going big, broad, and over the top with appalling melodrama. After revolves around the anxieties and dysfunctions of the Valentino clan, led by patriarch Mitch (John Doman), matriarch Nora (Kathleen Quinlan), and eldest son Christian (Orange is the New Black‘s Pablo Schreiber, bereft of his pornstache); rounding out the family are Christian’s wife Molly (Mandy Gonzalez), troublemaker Nicky (Adam Scarimbolo), aunt Kat (Diane Neal), Maxine (Sabrina Gennarino, who also wrote the screenplay), her beau Andy (Darrin Dewitt Henson), and youngest child Samantha (Alexi Maggio), seen only through videotape communiques.
Chiefly, their histrionics are borne out of job-related stresses, though the lot of them are so hotheaded and prone to arguing that their house feels like a tinderbox. Mitch owns a contracting company that does stonework, but he’s as hands off as can be, leaving Christian to run the day-to-day and struggle to keep business above water. Everyone else, meanwhile, contends with their personal issues – impending marriage, alcoholism, slackerdom, becoming a professional adult – while Christian alternates between floundering in the foreground and the background; the perspective shifts constantly, so his travails will either feel like matters of life and death or just window dressing, depending on who Gaspersz fixates on in one scene to the next.
His attention deficit suggests that he doesn’t really give much of a damn about any of them. He cares more about getting to his obnoxious coda than treating any of his characters like characters. We don’t know these people. Gaspersz doesn’t accord us that privilege. Rather, they’re defined by a handful of traits introduced the first time they wander onto screen. It’s a credit to his troupe that there’s even a pulse here; nobody here turns out to be the thespian stuff of legend, but they try, and given Gaspersz’s obvious preference for honey baking his picture, the effort deserves credit.
But then we get to the big twist that the director telegraphs through After‘s running time, and we feel we’ve been had. You may pat yourself on the back for getting his climactic reveal right ahead of time. On the other hand, you may need to collect your jaw from the floor once the extent of his coyness is made clear. After‘s melodrama and generally sloppy construction make it a tough sell from the opening frames; it’s not unwatchable, but it’s barely commendable, at least until Gaspersz takes his final gut shot and jettisons compassion in exchange for shock value. His tactic works: After‘s ending is truly shocking. Just not in the way he likely hoped it would be.