A great idea gets bum treatment in “After…,” which is full of needless whatsit puzzles and blurts of shock rather than true, sustained suspense. Director/co-writer David L. Cunningham’s terrific notion to take a team of urban explorers — closely based on the current worldwide phenomenon of intrepid souls plumbing scary city depths — and place them in a horror pic collides with a dead-end of mind tricks and cinematic pretensions. Extremely physical production and dazzling soundtrack will boost world sales, but best biz will be in video caverns.
Urban exploration is intro’d as ultra-dangerous, first in a pointless graphic note and then more effectively in a sequence in a Detroit building where threesome Nate (Daniel Caltagirone), Addy (Flora Montgomery) and Jay (Nicholas Aaron) base-jump to escape from authorities. As thrilling as the action is — featuring actual base-jumping stunts — hysterically frantic editing and shooting cancels out any sense of where characters are at any given moment.
This problem recurs at the team’s next destination — Moscow, and the legendary second Moscow metro system built deep underground by Stalin. As soon as the group gets into the subway tunnel, tension ramps up when a train hurtles by within inches of the explorers’ bodies.
But once they are inside the second metro, the action grows murkier and murkier — as if an Emir Kusturica film at its most drunken were being re-tooled by Jerry Bruckheimer.
Some unexplained pollutant in the tunnels causes decomposition and worse, while bands of gun-toting thugs roam about shooting dwellers in the underground. This and more — including Nate’s disturbing yet confusing memories of losing his young daughter KC (Ava Mareau Garcia) back home in the States — send the movie in hopelessly loopy directions that never get resolved to any satisfying degree, nor leave interesting ideas to ponder afterward.
Cunningham seems a touch inspired by “The Third Man” and its evocative off-angle shots of Viennese tunnels, but he takes it completely over the top with relentlessly non-stop cutting and fisheye lens framings, some of them care of bodycams worn by thesps. The movie gives nobody, from the actors (who look like they went through sheer hell) to viewers, any room to breath or think, and the opting for shocks over suspense undermines the whole enterprise terribly.
Fans of electronica group the Crystal Method will have a field day, since their pulsing music dominates pic from start to finish. Conversely, electronica naysayers will feel like they’re in hell with the actors. Music and natural sound re-recording is superb, while stunt work almost defies belief. Location lensing in Bratislava, Prague and (especially) Moscow suggests plenty of guerilla-style shooting.