There is no good way to start this one, I’m afraid, as one could turn Here After back to front and still not find much worth highlighting. Cristina Ricci comes to mind, being the promotional team’s royal flush, but is barely in it for more than five minutes and sporting a distracting plastic blonde wig that only emphasises the low-quality of her dialogue – therefore she can’t even begin to make a difference.
Here we have Michael (Andy Karl), a failed actor who tragically dies on the brink of his big break. Upon arriving in limbo, the man is told (by blonde-wig-wearing Ricci as heaven guru Scarlett) that in order to ascend into heaven, he needs to find his soulmate, otherwise he will simply disappear, shunned from the eternal happiness of the afterlife. In this scenario, you see, loners are denied access to the pearly gates. The rules of the dating game are seemingly simple: as a soul of sorts, one goes wandering through the city’s dive bars and posh restaurants in search of interesting people to forge a connection with. The dead can see you, the living cannot. Although sometimes the living can, actually, see you. You can drink and fully process copious amounts of alcohol and yet not enjoy a hearty meal. Well, you know what? Cross what I’ve just said, the rules are as muddy as they can be.
For a man who couldn’t find a match without the weight of eternal erasure on his shoulders, Michael’s odds look rather slim. Vain, self-centred and incredibly dull, the wannabe actor parades around New York City wailing about his misfortune, finding flaws in every single candidate instead of attempting any sort of self-reflection. Andy Karl delivers a cartoonish performance that exacerbates all of Michael’s most annoying traits, therefore creating a character unable to evoke sympathy and, frankly, impossible to root for.
Surprisingly enough, Michael does find a romantic partner in Nora Arnezeder’s manic pixie dream girl Honey Bee (yes, that is her name). Bee’s introduction to the story, however, happens far too late in the game, the film’s first hour entirely dedicated to overexplaining the central concept instead of developing the couple’s storyline. When one thinks things are – at last! – headed somewhere, director Harry Greenberger once again hits the brakes, dwelling on overly long scenes that not only harm the narrative’s pace but actively stand in the way of the audience’s ability to connect with the main couple – their relationship void of any nuance as every little thought is brought to the fore through long, pensive lines that leave nothing open to interpretation.
Perhaps, if the editing room had been graced with a chunk of at least thirty minutes left on their floor, Here After would have had a chance, albeit slim. Saccharine dialogues fill the exaggerated runtime as the film fails to hit the marks of a classic romantic comedy while never fully committing to the existential nature of its premise. At a time when fleeting dating-app-based relationships have become the norm and Netflix makes big bucks with the likes of Too Hot to Handle – a reality show centred on having young, horny people abstain from sex to find a meaningful connection – a story like the one we have here could have posed questions about the ever-fluid nature of human relationships and how not even death can free people from the societal expectations when it comes to love.
Another possible route would have been to fully lean on the clear influence of 1990’s Ghost, this doomed love story between people in two different spiritual planes a clear nod to Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze’s forbidden fairytale. Alas, Here After seems set on ignoring the refined, slow-burning tension of Jerry Zucker’s classic in lieu of cracking a few misplaced jokes (“Do you have any single dead brothers I can date?”) and using up a whole stack of cliché one-liners (“The universe is not fair, just big”, “You can’t change destiny”).
Visually, the cinematography heavily relies on something that most resembles one of those early Snapchat filters where all of one’s pimples and blemishes are replaced by slightly blushed cheeks and expression lines are digitally erased. Here, it is employed to evoke a dreamlike atmosphere, a constant, unnecessary reminder that this story takes place in a parallel reality despite the bright Times Square’s adverts that might suggest otherwise. The music offers no relief, frequently out of place, as if someone placed an iPod on shuffle and hoped for the best.
It brings me no joy to bring down the hammer, but neither did sitting down for two hours of this disjointed exploration of dating after death. With Here After, unfortunately, the only glimpse of solace lies with the certainty of having it fall into oblivion not long after the credits roll. A shame for Ricci, who deserves much better.