‘After’ is the Funniest Movie (Albeit Unintentionally) About 9/11 Ever

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Movies have an odd relationship to the tragic events of 9/11. In the realm of the blockbuster, there were posters and trailers for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man which featured the Twin Towers that had to be pulled; a film with Jackie Chan as a window washer at the World Trade Center who must defeat terrorists was scrapped; and many blockbusters, Man of Steel for example, use the horrific imagery of that day for cheap, exploitative terror. Then there are the dramas like Paul Greengrass’ United 93, Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, or Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which use the tragedy to elicit tears and sadness as a form of awards bait. The film After occupies the latter category, however, it is so inept on practically every level that it winds up creating its own special subsection of 9/11 inspired cinema: unintentional hilarity.

Now, I don’t like being harsh on young, independent filmmakers. There’s a difference between taking a dump on a blockbuster riddled with product placement that feel more like a corporate product than art, films that cannot accomplish the modest task which was their charge – to entertain. But with a film like After there’s no other course than to be harsh. This is a film that shows no promise. There are no hidden talents lurking behind a bad story. This is a dismal film.

The film is about a middle class family from upstate New York. The family business is a marble cutting firm that is falling on hard times. The older son of the family, Christian (Pablo Schreiber), is running the family business and facing pressure from the bank concerning a loan of mysterious origins. His father, Mitch (John Doman), and mother, Nora (Kathleen Quinlan), live a quiet life, finding joy in the video messages sent from their daughter, Samantha (Alexi Maggio). Their other son, Nick (Adam Scarimbolo), is an alcoholic who works at tattoo parlor, denying service to people at random. Their eldest daughter, Maxine (Sabrina Gennarino), is in a committed relationship with Andy (Darrin Dewitt Henson), an African-American who plans on proposing to Maxine (and I’m not mentioning his character’s ethnicity for the hell of it, the film makes it a plot point). Living with Mitch and Nora is Kat (Diane Neal), Nora’s alcoholic sister. (I’m fairly certain every character in this film is an alcoholic.) Anyways, Mitch doesn’t greet Andy’s proposal to Maxine with joy, refusing to give his blessing. Christian is struggling with the pressure from work, almost selling the business to a competitor. And Nick just keeps getting into fights with some guys he refused to tattoo. Basically, all these family developments are really irrelevant. The only thing that is of any importance to the story the film is trying to tell is Nora’s denial as to the death of Samantha on 9/11. Mitch goes out of his way to maintain the illusion, relabeling and mailing tapes from the deceased addressed to his own home. Eventually, Nora discovers the horrible truth, has a nervous breakdown, and spends the rest of her days in a catatonic state watching the videos of her dead child over and over.

After goes out of its way to obfuscate the details concerning the tragic events of 9/11 among other things. It seems as if the filmmakers thought that by leaving out information it would create tension and suspense, but all it does is render the film a confusing mass of bizarre character decisions and plot developments. It’s one of those films where the actions of the characters incite reactions of, “Who does that?!?” This film is inherently uncinematic, numerous scenes of people watching TV, shopping, or talking on the phone.

Director Pieter Gaspersz’s film is a haphazardly constructed, dreadfully paced mess of a film. He makes the kind of bold directing choices that one might expect from an amateur auteur like Tommy Wiseau. For example, the weird manner in which the camera slowly creeps forward on establishing shots, a stylish tick that disappears at the halfway point. Scripted by Sabrina Gennarino, who also plays Maxine, the film is never emotionally engaging, or even passively interesting. When the film is aiming for heart-wrenching drama, the result is howls of unintentional laughter. But the film is incompetent enough that it can’t achieve its goals and way too competent (or bland) to be a so-bad-it’s-good lark.

Outside of a few laughable line readings, After’s cast is mostly passable. Nobody stands out a pleasure to watch and nobody makes themselves a target for scorn. Actually, the cast is the first victim, the audience second. As the delusional matriarch of the Valentino family, Kathleen Quinlan is given the moments that bring out the laughs, like the moments she accidentally tramples a flower which causes a mental freak out. Casting Diane Neal, who’s nearly 20 years Quinlan’s junior, as her sister winds up being one of the more baffling decisions in a film loaded with baffling decisions.

The film’s handling of the tragic events of 9/11 is some of the most exploitative, emotionally manipulative tripe I’ve seen on the screen in some time. As I said before, the film obscures what it’s about until it uses 9/11 as a big reveal, a twist. This is followed by the mother’s breakdown to the sound of the day’s broadcasts. And as if that weren’t enough, the film is dedicated to those who lost their lives and those still with us. The dedication comes across as an afterthought, like someone realized, “Oh, people might not like the purposefully exploitative use of 9/11 for emotional manipulation.” Hands down one of my worst experiences in a theater this year, After is a piece of low rent, low concept, low execution filmmaking. But, hey, it was funnier than Sex Tape.

 

After opens in limited release on August 8th and is available through VOD providers on August 12th. For further information visit their website.

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