Moving on from the undead shenanigans of the day before, Sunday began a string of indie character pieces at Toronto After Dark, kicked off by Ryan Smith's After.
Two strangers wake up after a bus crash to find everyone in their small town has vanished. Even more troubling is the cloud of black smoke that has surrounded the area and is moving inward.
After is a good little movie with some great ideas behind it. I was almost immediately engaged, as there is little setup before the weirdness creeps in. I would wager that director Ryan Smith is an avid fan of Stephen King, as After is reminiscent of several of his works, most prominently The Mist. I've heard Amblin comparisons thrown around, but I'd say the “childhood memories” sequences are also more in keeping with King tales like Stand By Me, Hearts In Atlantis and Dreamcatcher. Also mingling with those, is a greyish palette and shifting reality similar to that of Silent Hill. These were all elements that I, of course, accepted with open arms, for the underlying mystery kept me interested throughout.
After inevitably succeeds due to its pair of strong leads. Steven Strait & Karolina Wydra handle the tough task of reacting believably to their extraordinary circumstances well and I rarely found myself questioning their motives. I also appreciated that the movie was fairly upfront with its reveals. Unlike my recent experience with Sinister, After didn't make a big deal about its major plot points. It gave you the information and moved on, almost aware that some viewers may already be ahead of the game.
My only major gripe with After is that I wish they'd had either the budget or the ingenuity to do the monster practically. The CG isn't particularly bad, it is just that the antagonist is onscreen a lot, so it loses most of its power once the light is shined on it.
After is a dark and bewitching urban fantasy that is built on an exciting premise and grounded by well realized characters.