After begins with a mystery before its first frame. What does “after” refer to? A death? Divorce? Nuclear war? Judging from the funereal scene on the cover of the DVD, it’s nothing good, and when After plunges us into the story of the Valentino family, it becomes clear that good news is hard to come by.
There’s a struggling stoneworking business (dad may have taken out some loans before handing the company over to his son, whoops), a daughter in an interracial relationship that dad clearly doesn’t like, and a daughter who’s left cozy upstate New York for the big city of Manhattan. She communicates with the family via videotaped messages, so she can show off her new puppy or sing “Happy Birthday” in the style of Marilyn Monroe.
After rumbles along with all of its little dramas getting equal time — all of which is really just expositional fodder for the big story that’s lurking in the background. Soon there’s a wedding to be planned — in a matter of weeks — and then there’s trouble at the mill when a competitor breaks in and destroys all the work in progress. Talk about throwing fuel on the fire! But what of Kat, who can’t be bothered to come to her own sister’s wedding just a few hundred miles away. What’s up with that?
Just when you think After‘s secret is going to be that daddy molested everyone, the movie’s big reveal takes things to a truly ominous and surprisingly dark place. Kathleen Quinlan hasn’t thrilled me in the last 20 years or so, but her work here is admirable and convincing as a mother that’s somehow managing to keep it all together. She’s the only name-brand star in this otherwise scrappy indie production, and by all accounts that was money well spent.
Not to spoil anything, but some may see After‘s climax as trite and almost boring, but Quinlan alone manages to pull it off. Director Pieter Gaspersz, best known as a bit-part TV actor, finds his way around a digital camera just fine. This isn’t the kind of movie where you’re going to be chatting up your friends about the amazing cinematography, but Gaspersz makes up for it by embedding you with this family’s struggles, and almost making you care about what happens to them all in the end.