A good plot twist can be a potent weapon in the armoury of a movie. Ideally, these serve as an addition, an extra to an already-effective plot. The story has seemingly been resolved and then the twist arrives to reveal the hidden extra layer to all that has gone before.
When this works, it can come seemingly out of nowhere and elevate a good film to greatness. One such example would be The Sixth Sense. Of course, the flipside of the equation is when a film rests entirely on its twist and without it, the story is lacklustre and rambling. In these cases, the twist must be something extra-special and surprising. Too often, though, with an audience engaged in nothing but trying to guess the twist, these films can be predictable and disappointing. One such example would be…After.
The premise of the film centres around Nate (Daniel Caltagirone), his wife Addy (Flora Montgomery) and her brother Jay (Nicholas Aaron). Together they are Urban Explorers, described by the opening onscreen text as extreme sport’s answer to computer hackers. They break into dangerous areas…just because they can. We see in the opening scene an example of the trio’s work as they infiltrate an office building before leaping from the roof in a base jump.
After this escapade, they decide to take on Moscow, especially the legend of tunnels beneath the subway, long since closed and possibly irradiated. Cameras in tow (all the better to broadcast their adventures on the web) and packed to the nines with equipment, they begin their mission. Soon, however, Nate starts to have visions and see things related to the disappearance and murder of his daughter and he finds his grip on reality in the labyrinthine tunnels beginning to slip…
Where After succeeds is in the choices of shooting style. The film switches between shots from the lead trio’s own cameras to third-person shots that are themselves typically handheld or at wild dutch angles. Garish colours wash every frame, turning the cold stone tunnels into nightmarish, erratic environments. The visuals give the whole a sense of energy and immediacy that perfectly suit the subject.
Complementing the camerawork is a solid score from The Crystal Method and some strong acting from its cast of unknowns (well, to me at least). In fact, it could be argued that pretty much all of the bases for a great movie are covered.
Except for that pesky script.
After quickly falls into ‘what is going on here’ territory and it becomes apparent from early on that there will be a big reveal to explain the circumstances behind the mysterious visions Nate experiences. Unfortunately, the twist is one that has been used by at least a dozen films in the past few years and particularly horror fans will guess it from very, very early on.
With the twist an obvious one, there is little else in the script. Character development is minimal and other plot points are…well, there aren’t any. And just in case you weren’t the kind of person to guess the twist, the DVD case helpfully draws a comparison to another film in its synopsis…a film with the exact same twist (and some of the same visuals).
This critical flaw turns what could have been an absorbing mind-bender into a dull trudge of pointless or obvious ‘visions’. Despite a fresh eye to the filming style (including some very nicely-blended digital effects) and fine work from the cast, this lack of originality in plotting hamstrings the film. Instead of being a low-budget gem of guerrilla style filmmaking, After is instead a tired, over-familiar piece of interest only to those who have managed to avoid seeing the many other movies featuring the same twist – surely now the cinematic equivalent of it ‘all being a dream’.
Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment