'After We Leave': Film Review

Courtesy of Aleem Hossain
A respectable if not wholly convincing entry into the indie sci-fi arena.
2/21/2020

In Aleem Hossain's debut, a man must find his estranged wife in four days so he can use a coveted ticket to an off-Earth colony.

A used-up planet serves as backdrop for personal drama in Aleem Hossain's After We Leave, the story of a man who, paradoxically, must return to a life he abandoned if he hopes to really start over from scratch. In this particular dystopia, the government only allows ordinary folk to leave Earth in wedded pairs, so, when his visa is finally approved, Jack (Brian Silverman) has to find a wife he hasn't seen in years before their interplanetary transport blasts off. Hossain's feature debut is more direct than some of its peers on the scrappy sci-fi scene, eschewing trippy concepts and focusing on easily digested relationship issues. It's also less thoroughly thought-out than some of those speculative indies; but fans of the scene may still see promise in this serious-minded feature debut.

In some ways, the picture finds that its lack of resources is appropriate for its premise: While the unfortunate inhabitants of Blade Runner and other big-budget future Earths live in art-directed cities whose oppressive grime and exotic dangers make the promise of escape enticing — "A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies!" — Hossain's world, nearly devoid of sci-fi production touches, reminds us of the extent to which we're already living in this future. Americans here may have endured 72 straight quarters of recession, and a third of the nation may be desert, but the Angelenos we meet who haven't yet scored an off-world pass struggle through recognizable lives.

For reasons that go largely unexplained — they probably have something to do with an affair he had with Anita Leeman Torres' Lexi — Jack left his home without warning years ago, winding up doing mining work in the Yukon. He and his wife Vanessa had applied for an off-planet visa together, but seem to have abandoned hope before the marriage fell apart. Now, carrying the crumpled approval notice in his back pocket, he's surprising all his old friends to ask if they know where Vanessa's living now.

Well, "friends" and less-than-friends: The only person who claims to have a lead on Vanessa's whereabouts is Eric (Clay Wilcox), a criminal Jack used to work for. Jack owes Eric a big debt, unfortunately, and is told that the only way he'll ever find Vanessa by Friday's launch time is if he helps with a dangerous job to repay old debts.

In Hossain's script, this isn't so much the entry point for crime-movie tension as another way in which Jack can soak in his own angst and the disapproval of friends who've moved on from crime. Onetime co-worker Morgan (Anslem Richardson), resentful that he and his wife continue to be denied visas, seems allergic to Jack; Lexi, strangely, sees no reason not to jump back into their relationship. But Jack is single-minded: He'll get off this planet no matter what it takes, even if he has to beg forgiveness from his ex.

Hossain's refusal to overexplain the details of his world — is the thing Jack's supposed to steal a drug? a weapon? — plays well in some instances; elsewhere, coupled with the film's low budget, it risks failing to convince us we're in the future at all. Silverman, for his part, is fully committed to the scenario. Audience members will be wise to doubt that getting to another part of the solar system will allow this troubled man to reinvent himself. But that doesn't mean we won't hope he gets the chance to try.

Production company: Toin Coss
Distributor: Gravitas
Cast: Brian Silverman, Clay Wilcox, Anselm Richardson, Anita Leeman Torres, James Black
Director-screenwriter: Aleem Hossain
Producers: Aleem Hossain, Julie Kirkwood, Brian Silverman
Director of photography: Julie Kirkwood
Editor: Lori Lovoy-Goran
Composer: Chanda Dancy

84 minutes