Right Guard shill/Redman BFF Method Man once quipped that his late Wu-Tang partner, Russell Jones, went by the alter-ego Ol’ Dirty Bastard because “There ain’t no father to his style”. Despite obvious differences in talent and temperament, the same could be said for Mark Region, the director of After Last Season. It’s hard to point to a a single frame in his aggressively baffling debut with precedent in the world of film. Since the debut of the trailer last June, the movie has prompted a flurry of questions, chiefly: “What the heck is going here?”, Is this seriously getting a theatrical release?”, and “Is that cardboard thing supposed to be an MRI machine?”
I can answer the last two questions definitively: Yes, it did get a release, though only in four theaters, and yep, they actually try to pass off that series of cardboard boxes covered in computer paper as an actual MRI machine. But as far as the first question, I’m a long ways from a credible explanation of how and why After Last Season came into being or what it all means – even after watching it three times on DVD. But try I must. Along the way, I’ll be interspersing my thoughts with pull quotes from this Filmmaker interview with the director from last summer.
Stop Making Sense: The Plot of After Last Season
Filmmaker: What are you trying to say or communicate with this film? Region: The film covers several subjects. Scientific innovation and how it can be used to solve a murder is one of them. Showing some facets in the lives of medical students is also one of them.
After Last Season resists synopsis like Keith Richards resists sobriety, but I can at least lay out some of the pieces and hope someone else knows how to put together the puzzle. Despite supposedly being a ‘sci-fi thriller’, ninety percent of the dialogue involves incredibly dry discussions of one of three topics:
1. MRI machines and their functions
2. Directions to nearby towns and descriptions of local businesses
3. Geometric shapes
I saw one person online try to summarize the plot as “Ghost Foils Murder”. If I had to sum it up briefly like that, I guess my take would be “Medical Interns Endure Confusing Renovations, Inept Haunting”. But, in the spirit of the film, let me test your patience with a longer synopsis:
Along with several characters whose reasons for being in the film are unclear, a couple of medical student use groundbreaking, mind-reading technology (that looks like MS Paint ) to uncover (kinda) a murder from last week, and then the murderer that they saw with their thought-reading chips (more on that later) comes to get them (how would he know?) with an already-bloodied knife (?), but then a ghost one of the main characters had seen in a dream (I think) attacks the bad man with a chair, even though shortly thereafter the ghost demonstrates how he can lift a ruler but not a backpack (seriously), and I think a chair is usually at least as heavy as a backpack, right? I give up.
But don’t get me wrong. All that ‘drama’ with the knife-murder-guy is only about five minutes of screen time and is so confusingly staged and shot, it doesn’t come close to breaking the film’s commitment to inducing bewildering boredom in the viewer.
Region: After you’ve seen it, you know the whole plot. It’s all in there. It’s very logical. I wanted to make the movie as realistic and logical as possible, it’s just in the way it’s presented. The way it’s presented it will produce some kind of thrilling or disturbing reaction. But it’s very logical and it’s all in there.
But as much boredom as the movie generates – and it’s a lot – it’s a strangely fascinating sort of dullness. It sounds odd, but my friends and I were on the edge of seats with boredom the whole time. It’s thrillingly tedious: how will they top the last banality? I’ll collected some samples of the enigmatically generic dialogue to give you an idea. Like the movie itself, I give no context. Some of these are the scenes in their entirety:
Woman on phone: “I’m on the third floor. I live in an apartment building on the east side of the city. It’s about 15 minutes from the bridge. I have a view of downtown from my windows.
Stacy: Did he love the town?
Anne: Sometimes, he gave me the impression that he didn’t, but my grandfather stayed in Ringham most of his life.
Stacy : (said with an inordinate amount of interest) : What did he do in Ringham?
Anne: He became a carpenter.
[Lots of mutual laughter at this for some reason]
Stacy: Well, my father also grew up in a small town. He stayed in this town until he was 15. Later on, his family moved aways to the suburbs of a large city.
Random Lady: My uncle saw a coyote by that tree over there. It stood there for several seconds and then went away.
Actual last line of the movie: We have a room next to the living room.
But as dazzling as the dialogue is, it’s no match for the real star of the movie, the set ‘design’.
Production Values, or Lack Thereof, of After Last Season
Region: We only had enough money to shoot the film and not enough for production design in the beginning. Additional money only came several months later for the special effects and for the computer animation. We made the sets simple. I used shots of walls to show the passage of time in some scenes and to show that something is happening at a different location in other scenes. (ed. note: Huh?) For the rest we tried to keep the sets simple because of the budget.
Let’s say I decided to walk into any random room in my apartment, lay my camcorder down on the first available surface, and spin it around violently. Odds are I’d end up with a more pleasing composition than ninety percent of this movie. And the only thing more innovatively inept than the camerawork is the ‘set’ ‘design’. I’m not exaggerating to say that my friends and I missed ninety percent of the dialogue in this movie the first time we watched it because we couldn’t stop laughing at how amazingly awful the sets, special effects, and cinematography were. Every new shot triggered another round of questions, confusion, and guffaws.
But it also incited arguments. The thing is so poorly made it’s a provocation. Viewings inevitably dissolve into debates about intent and conspiracies over whether the whole thing is a giant put-on or not. It’s a level of slapdash halfassery that would elude the amateur. An amateur is merely inadequate, but so much of After Last Season seems to go out of its way to be wrong.
The sets are piled with seemingly random detritus and the walls are often, for some reason, half-covered with wallpaper taped on with duct tape. Text is digitally placed on a blank sheet of white paper when it could’ve easily been simply typed and printed out. The presence of a ghost is illustrated by gray Rubbermaid boxes sliding across a floor. The movie’s plot revolves around electronic chips that two people place on the side of their heads so that one can see the other’s thoughts. Yet they decided to illustrate this ultra-futuristic technology with graphics that would’ve looked low-budget on a screensaver in 1993. The combined experience of the effects team on ASL can probably be measured in minutes.
Filmmaker: Were these people from a VFX house, or were they people who simply knew how to do things on a computer?
Region: People who knew things to do things on computer. Unknown people. We put [the effects] together from scratch.
Uniquely Inept is Still Unique
But as craptastic as the film is, it’s more than mere incompetence that makes the film fascinating. Most incredibly lame works of almost-art are compelling and sadly comic because of a massive gap between highfalutin intent and piss-poor execution. But like The Room and Troll 2, it’s incredibly hard to even begin to fathom the intent behind After Last Season. In other words, it’s so weird, I don’t even what they were going for – and that’s strangely admirable. It may not be, by any measure on any Earth, well shot, written, acted or directed, but it is highly, highly, original. And, personally, I’d much rather see some loony goofball flame out like a roman candle trying some nutty stunt than watch yet another by-the-numbers piece of boring Oscar bait aimed straight at a complacent middlebrow audience. I’m looking at you, Eastwood.
Sadly, After Last Season isn’t available on Netflix yet. You can only purchase it through Amazon. And for the record, I highly recommend pooling the resources of your Bad Movie Club and doing just that. Here’s to originality!
Filmmaker: Is there anything else you would like people to know about you and your movie?
Region: It’s a thriller. The critics would say it better than I do. One critic said it’s a film unlike anything you’ve seen before. That’s from the critic, and that’s something we tried to do.