The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Aftermath is perpetually on the edge of doing something really interesting, yet it never fully goes all the way in. There's a compelling idea at work here, as well as an admirable willingness to explore the darkest reaches of that idea. Those things are, however, continually undone by a misguided script and weak direction. Some individual moments illicit a case of the creeps, that much is for sure. But those creeps aren't maximized, thereby preventing Aftermath from reaching its full potential.

The story envisions a world undone by nuclear war. Entire countries are gone, and the U.S. is on its way out, too. A group of strangers find themselves holed up together in a basement after the bombs hit. They include Hunter (C.J. Thomason), a young doctor; Elizabeth (Monica Keena), a determined nurse; antagonistic redneck Brad (Edward Furlong, seemingly doing his best impersonation of Norman Reedus in The Walking Dead); and Rob (The Wire's Andre Royo), who stumbles into the basement late and has to fight for his right to stay. Aftermath tracks these characters over the course of thirty days, as they wait for the radiation to die down to safer levels. They contend with a variety of problems, including interpersonal conflict, a pregnancy, hunger, and diseased survivors outside trying to break in.

If Aftermath sounds kind of bleak, it is. The movie is not afraid of its own grimness, and there are moments that effectively convey the horror of the situation. At one point, the characters sit and listen to a repeating Emergency Warning System alert on a staticky radio. The robotic, unchanging nature of it undermines the message of impending help it was designed to convey. There is something eerie, too, about the way Hunter and the others peer out windows and notice that the sky is black during the middle of the day. The ending, which of course I will not reveal, also plays fairly, offering no indication that the world is okay.

While the overall story is fine, the execution leaves something to be desired. Screenwriter Christian McDonald hasn't figured out how to naturally integrate information through dialogue, so you get a lot of moments where the characters very awkwardly spout exposition. Early on, for instance, when everyone is scrambling to safety in the wake of imminent danger, several of them abruptly stop to introduce themselves so that we will know their names. Hunter also has a tendency to give detailed scientific explanations of how the radiation will affect them and how he hopes to protect everyone inside the basement. This kind of thing feels so forced that it takes you right out of the movie.

So does the direction from Peter Engert, who feels the need to toss in needlessly showy stylistics, particularly during the big finale. The scene is the most action-heavy in the entire film, and yet Engert repeatedly freezes the image, then zooms in on it. It's a self-conscious technique that has the effect of distancing the viewer from the action. When people are running and fighting for their lives, continually pausing robs the sequence of its intensity and pacing.

Aftermath has generally good performances, and it certainly devised an unsettling premise. With surer hands in the writing and directing departments, it could have been deeply disturbing, rather than just generally disappointing.

( 1/2 out of four)

Aftermath is unrated, but contains graphic bloody violence and adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.

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