After Last Season (2009)
After Last Season is a little movie that most people wrongly mistook for a joke. Writer/director Mark Region pulled off something rarely witnessed in modern movies: he put together a low budget movie all on his own and got it released nationally. The movie even has a Quicktime trailer on Apple’s website. It was released last summer in only four cities for a limited trial run, which explains why nobody has every heard of Region’s creative opus. It also might have to do with the fact that After Last Season is so appallingly terrible that the distributor reportedly called the theaters to advise burning the film prints rather than returning them. Naturally, given my cinematic tastes for the finest trash and my keen knowledge of the baddest of bads, I instantly had to see this film for myself. The website After Last Season boasts an Amazon.com customer review (nary a good sign of accomplishment) saying that the movie is unlike any you have ever seen. There’s a good reason for that. After Last Season approaches a near Manos level of ineptitude. That should speak volumes.
The plot, as can best be described, involves a university conducting scientific experiments. Sarah (Peggy McClellen) and Matthew (Jason Kulas) are interns conducting their own investigation into a recent string of murders. They have access to a device that allows the connection of minds, and so Sarah and Matthew link brains and get caught in the wavelengths of the campus killer, who now begins to target them. This plot synopsis is actually too kind and might mislead some into thinking the movie has drama or action or suspense. What really happens are characters who you don’t know doing things that aren’t fully explained followed by unexplained location changes where the whole process repeats itself. You haven’t lived until you’ve listened to Sarah’s roommates engage in senseless conversations about going to the North Market.
When I say that this movie is awful, I really mean it with all sincerity. This movie is so awful, so off-the-charts painful to watch that there is not an ounce of derisive fun to be had. After Last Season does not fall into that coveted category of “so bad it’s good,” no, this movie is simply disastrously, regrettably, incomprehensibly bad. I would not recommend it to my friends or enemies. From a plot standpoint, there’s about 15 minutes of stuff stretched out to a short but far too long length of 93 minutes. The opening 10 minutes concern characters explaining how an MRI machine operates. It’s like Region once wrote a paper on an MRI machine and wanted everybody to know the work put into it. The characters just keep rehashing the ins and outs of this machine, and the machine is clearly made of cardboard and in the middle of somebody’s living room (is it unusual for a metallic ceiling fan to be placed directly above a Magnetic Resonating Imaging machine?). Then there’s a 30-minute stretch in the middle that is nothing more than two people sitting across a table and dreaming about geometric shapes. 30 minutes! I doubt that I even have the ability to adequately explain the amount of mind-numbing torture that this sequence was. My friend Eric and I just kept looking at one another with hopeful expressions, silently pleading, “Will our pain and suffering soon be over?” 30 freaking minutes! One third of the entire movie is like watching somebody’s annoying screensaver from 1987. I can’t wait for the sequel where it looks like a bunch of windows are flying.
The rest of the script isn’t filled with intriguing character dynamics or challenging drama. It’s almost completely built from non-related scenes with non-identified characters having frivolous conversations about nothing. Most of the dialogue is driven by linked non-sequitors, which prompted me to repeatedly yell at the screen, “Why the hell was that important?” Characters will drone on in useless babble, never once circling a subject that seems to be related to the plot at hand. The small group of actors (you will be amazed that the end credits lists over 15 characters) feels like people awaiting an execution. True, the pitiful direction leaves them unmoored, fighting to find meaning in anything they say, but these people just suck at acting. The general range of acting goes from impassive monotone to somewhat less impassive monotone. It’s the acting equivalent of rounding up random people at the bus station and hoping for a miracle.
I have seen low budget productions before but this movie looks like it was made for the cost of a lottery ticket. For whatever reason, the current info has the budget at five million but there’s no way in hell that can be true (some producer must have ran off with like the whole sum minus twenty bucks). Reportedly the movie cost $40,000, which I can believe barely, and the special effects cost 4.95 million dollars, which I find baffling. The sets are all overly lit basements disguised by the clever decorative abilities of pegboards and sheets of paper. There are scenes where actual paper is taped to the walls like it was shingles, just like what a child might devise as a means of decoration. There’s even a supposed college class that takes place in this same low-rent location, which means that this particular university is really struggling for endowment funds. This utilitarian approach to locations is what I’d expect from a public access show or a student’s video project. These locations make it seem like every person is one moment away from being gutted by a serial killer just off screen. Did Region have only one abandoned office basement to work with? The visitations by the ghost/mind spirit/whatever are just as bad. We have the embarrassment of watching plastic tubs being pulled across the floor with fishing line. Having a low budget should force Region to be more creative with his use of resources, to work around his limitations. Instead, he just continually shines a bright light illuminating every possible limitation in the movie.
From a technical standpoint, After Last Season is an abysmal entry. It fails not just because of its lack of funds but it fails because Region lacks any filmmaking ability whatsoever. Sure, apparently the man was able to pose actors, have them recite lines, and keep the cameras running, but I expect more from my movies than the same criteria I have for family vacation videos. Region’s directorial style is, ostensibly, to have no discernible visual sensibility at all. Actors will routinely be cut out from the camera frame or the spatial relations will be completely out of whack, allowing for tremendous space above heads or showing the actor’s complete body except the upper half of the face. Characters will be bunched in one tiny section of the screen, or Region will suddenly cut back and forth between two different shots that conflict from a geographic standpoint; they don’t visually match up. There isn’t a single shot anywhere in After Last Season that couldn’t have been credited to a tripod for complete creative inspiration.
Here’s a terrific example of how creatively bankrupt this movie is, and no, I will restrain from making reference to the sheets of paper as decoration. The website for After Last Season actually touts its use of special effects. What special effects, you may very reasonably be asking yourself. Evidently, several scenes had less background coverage, so the special effects gurus took a sample background object and copied it to cover the space (like taking one sheet and making a wall out of them). Okay, fine, except that this special effects wizardry doesn’t always work. The website itself even showcases a scene where Sarah goes in for her job interview and on the right hand side we can see the special effect trick of covering up the empty space. However, the left side is completely untouched, leaving exposed all the set shortcomings and extension cords. Why cover one side but not the other? Too expensive? Here’s the best question of all. Why spend any money whatsoever on lame special effects when you could have simply zoomed in so that the two characters filled the screen? That’s a much more cost-effective option and wouldn’t break the perilous illusion of the movie. It is examples like this that condemn Region as an artist with zero creative ingenuity.
Now it’s at this point where I have to call into question the integrity of After Last Season. Was this entire project created on purpose to be terrible, and if so, does it even make a difference? Is a bad movie more acceptable if it’s intentional or unintentional? From my perspective, you cannot intentionally make a campy movie. The derisive pleasure must come from the fact that the filmmakers thought they were making compelling cinema at some point. If After Last Season is fake (I hesitate to use that word given its connotation) then it’s an even bigger waste of time (Update: I just read online interviews with Region, and the movie is for real). As it stands, the movie is technically inept on every level of filmmaking with a bad script, bad actors, bad pacing, bad direction, bad sets, bad sound coverage, bad “special effects,” and really bad editing. If Region was dreaming of creating a midnight-movie sensation like The Room then he missed the mark. This movie isn’t any fun whatsoever to watch because there’s not enough going on to make laugh at. With The Room, every scene had like eight things wrong with it; that film was a 1000 brushstrokes of bad. With After Last Season, it’s the same forehead-smacking flaws repeated ad nauseam. There’s no derisive joy to be had here, folks.
I’m not shocked that something as unrepentantly bad as After Last Season exists. There is plenty of crap on the Internet and in this modern age of user media, there’s no shortage of poorly executed ideas finding a wider audience. It’s the same with the infamous 1979 blotch on cinema, Caligula. I’m not surprised that something so debased and wildly salacious exists, what shocks me is that a movie with incest, bestiality, necrophilia, hard-core sex scenes, and gallons of blood would star such a celebrated cast of thespians like John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole, Malcolm McDowell, and Helen Mirren (though if you’ve seen Zardoz you know that Mirren wasn’t too picky in those days). What shocks me is not that Caligula exists but the level of involvement and exposure. What truly shocks me is that After Last Season got a theatrical release over the likes of thousands of other movies fighting for a release. Yes, this only played on four screens in four different cities, but how does anybody justify After Last Season even being in the same consideration of cinematic art? I am faint to even refer to this as a movie. It almost seems like a social experiment with disturbing psychological implications. After Last Season isn’t a movie so much as an endurance test of how much pointless garbage a person can consume before they relentlessly cry, “Enough! You have officially destroyed my soul!” I never thought I’d say these words, but After Last Season makes The Room look competent. Your apology letter is in the mail, Tommy Wiseau.
Nate’s Grade: F