'After': Film Review
Pieter Gaspersz's debut features a family made miserable and dysfunctional by buried trauma
A family drama about trauma's aftermath that is numbingly dreary where it intends to be wrenching and intense, Pieter Gaspersz's After revolves around an undiscussed loss that has turned a loving home into a hothouse of resentments. Built around a "secret" that is easily guessed for viewers who've seen promo materials, the picture's most distinctive feature is a real-life tie-in that is approached with sincerity, however undercooked Sabrina Gennarino's script is. Though clumsily enacted, the eventual revelation at least avoids the sick-punchline feel afflicting some dramas sharing this theme. Commercial prospects are dim on all fronts.
The typical "spoiler alert" probably applies here, but when a film's press synopsis makes a point of saying that a tale of emotional turmoil takes place in 2002 in New York, one can only assume hints are appropriate. Producers likely feel the element of surprise isn't as important as the attention-drawing power of a certain national tragedy that occurred shortly before the film's action.
Within the film itself, though, information is rationed out slowly enough (the date isn't even mentioned until midway through) that we'd have a hard time guessing what sort of cloud hovers above the family: Overheated performances suggest that perhaps many of the characters are simply crabby, unlikeable people. In lieu of the real issue, the film offers us financial woes: A stone-cutting business started by xenophobic patriarch Mitch (John Doman) is deep in debt, and he has left it to resentful eldest son Christian (Pablo Schreiber) to keep the firm afloat. Mitch's wife, Nora (Kathleen Quinlan), seems a little fragile from the start, but it's only when she becomes hysterical after stepping on a flower in her garden that we wonder just what kind of breakdown she's recovering from.
Gennarino gives herself the role of the most level-headed of three siblings, Maxine, who projects a mildly impatient need to normalize the situation at home. Even so, her character has the film's least credible bit of action: After spending the day excited about the dinner where she thinks longtime boyfriend Andy (Darrin Dewitt Henson) will propose, she responds with ambivalence when the question finally is popped.
The filmmakers clearly believe this and other weird behavior is justified by the family's cobbled-together mechanisms for coping with grief, but these unspoken rules make much less sense to the viewer, even after we know the whole story. The grumbling, eggshell-walking and desperation that precedes the big reveal would be underwhelming even in a midday slot on basic cable.
Production company: Girl's Gotta Eat Entertainment
Cast: Kathleen Quinlan, John Doman, Pablo Schreiber, Sabrina Gennarino, Adam Scarimbolo, Diane Neal, Darrin Dewitt Henson
Director: Pieter Gaspersz
Screenwriter: Sabrina Gennarino
Producers: Pieter Gaspersz, Sabrina Gennarino
Director of photography: Jonathan Hall
Production designer: Mary Steeves
Costume designers: Ivan Alvarez, Rosalind Bullard
Editor: William Steinkamp
Music: Jeff Beal
Rated R, 100 minutes