PLOT: After an intense bus crash, two acquaintances find themselves alone and confused in their small town, where everyone else seems to have vanished without a trace. As the situation becomes even more dire, the duo must figure out what has happened to the place they call home... and what's happening to them.
REVIEW: Screened at San Diego Comic-Con in advance of its upcoming September release, AFTER is Ryan Smith's Twilight Zone-esque tale of lost souls in an abandoned town. Utilizing such simple, romantic themes as the power of imagination, Smith creates an atmospheric world that is both eerie and fascinating.
Ana (Karolina Wydra) and Freddy (Steven Strait) meet on a dark bus ride back to their home town, although oddly enough, neither seem to know who the other is. Their meeting is cut brief when the bus crashes, and the two suddenly appear in their town, which is now completely empty. Scarier still, a monstrous cloud ring is evidently swallowing the area, closing in on the protagonists slowly but surely. If they're to survive this supernatural ordeal, they'll have to figure out just what the hell is going on first.
Are they dead? In an alternate dimension? Is it all a dream? Some combination of each scenario? That's the guiding force behind AFTER, which takes its time developing the mystery and the relationship between Ana and Freddy, who eventually forge a rather sweet, believable bond as they search for answers. As the couple scavenge houses and attempt to find a way out of the town, they learn that they aren't, in fact, alone there.. there's something else present, and it's got big, nasty teeth.
Both actors are extremely likable, although Strait really stands out; the actor's affability and strong screen presence give him a leading man aura, and though he's not been a household name thus far, it's possible that he'll get there. Wydra emotes equal amounts of vulnerability and strength, which is what you want from your genre heroine.
For a movie that presumably didn't have a ton of money to work with, AFTER has a pretty slick look. Smith proves himself an extremely gifted visual director, crafting several memorable images throughout the film, some of which include highly impressive CG effects that could be in a movie with a much higher budget. The “fog” that slowly envelops the town is one such sight, and the creature that plagues our heroes is another. There are several nifty sights in AFTER that any $100 million Hollywood product would be happy to have.
What's most likable about AFTER is its considerably gentle spirit. It's a suspense thriller that doesn't rely on cynicism or brutality to get its suspense or thrills. In the end, it has a message of hope and warmth, which is actually quite refreshing in this genre nowadays. AFTER is a complex, haunting and thoroughly satisfying thriller. Ryan Smith is truly a director to keep an eye on!