Maybe the key to unlocking the baffling mystery that is After Last Season is the sign reading “Psychology Experiment” seen hanging on a door (and later in a computer animated sequence) in the film. Maybe that’s all this is: some kind of mind-fuck, a nefarious piece of anti-cinema, the true meaning of which will ultimately be revealed in the film’s closing minutes. Is there a fiendishly clever guiding intelligence behind the camera, hiding behind a smokescreen of utter ineptitude?
One thing is for sure – contrary to speculation that the inexplicable trailer and inscrutible plot description offered on the website was some sort of viral marketing scheme on behalf of an entirely different movie – After Last Season is real. All the snippets seen in the trailer are included in the fim, though they make no more sense in context than they did in abbreviated form. The movie opens in the MRI room of a hospital, although just as is evident from the trailer, we are clearly in somebody’s house, in a room with pink walls and a ceiling fan, with a cardboard MRI scanner covered with construction paper in the corner. Deliberate Brechtian alienation device? Cynical attempt at creating a “so bad it’s good” cult hit ala Tommy Wiseau’s The Room? Or earnest effort by staggeringly untalented individuals who have somehow managed to make a singular film that is at once intensely boring, thoroughly disorienting and so technically incompetent it achieves several deeply unnerving effects entirely by accident?
Let’s give writer/director Mark Region the benefit of the doubt for the moment, just for shits and grins. Let’s assume this is exactly the movie he set out to make. What is After Last Season about? (Don’t ask me what the title means, because I have no clue.) The opening scenes concern some nerve-damaged patients who have undergone some sort of experimental surgery. There is some talk of MRI scans, and how they reveal the difference between a normal, healthy brain and that of a schizophrenic. We move on to new locations, all of which appear to be housed inside the same abandoned, trashed office building. A production designer is named in the credits, but there appears to be no production design at all. Half-sheets of wallpaper taped to grubby walls, electric wires dangling into frames, partitions covered with manila wrapping paper, harsh interrogation room lighting, static insert shots of random furniture – it all looks like a filmed improv run-through, and it plays that way, too.
We are treated to inane fragments of conversation by characters who have little to do with whatever plot there is, snippets of discussions about towns people have lived in, markets they haven’t been to, computer printers that don’t work. Most of the characters appear to be grad students studying psychology, and some sort of story finally gets underway when Matthew (Jason Kulas) engages Sarah (Peggy McClellan) in the psychology test mentioned above. It’s the usual “tape a computer chip to your temple and read each other’s thoughts, which are represented as blocky geometric computer animation you could have whipped up on your Commodore 64 in 1983″ sort of test. Very slowly, in a sequence that recalls the finale of 2001: A Space Odyssey in the same way your backyard wiffleball set recalls Fenway Park, the animation resolves into clues pertaining to a series of murders that have taken place on campus. And now things get really weird. Chairs begin to move on their own. Rulers float in mid-air. An invisible killer attacks! Or does he?
I haven’t even mentioned the bizarre gurgling noises that keep surging up on the soundtrack, which could either be a deliberately unnerving Eraserhead-type sound design or just a defect of the print I (and the two other people in the theater) was watching. I did keep hoping for some final revelation that would cause everything I’d seen to click into place, but it never came. (I think there was some sort of plot twist revealed in the final scene between two entirely tangential characters, but I can’t be sure.)
The weirdest thing about After Last Season is that I saw it in a generic multiplex, with the usual ads and trailers playing before it, in a theater next to one showing the latest Terminator movie. I don’t know how this happened. Someday I hope to find out.
– Scott Von Doviak