“This movie makes no sense. I don’t mean the story doesn’t make sense, it almost does. I mean the movie as a thing that exists doesn’t make sense.”–Rob Steele
DIRECTED BY: Mark Region
FEATURING: Jason Kulas, Peggy McClellan
PLOT: Matthew and Sarah are med students with an interest in neurology. A fellow student is knifed to death by a serial killer. Matthew runs a telepathy experiment with Sarah, who sees visions of the killer, and together they try to visualize the murderer.
- After Last Season made a minor stir on the Internet in 2009 when its nonsensical (but, as it turns out, completely representative) trailer was released on YouTube and other video sites. The piece was so thoroughly anti-cinematic, with its laughable props and the meaningless minutiae of its dialogue, that many people assumed it was a parody of a low-budget indie film created by an established director. The frenzy reached it’s peak when “Entertainment Weekly” published an article repeating rumors that the trailer was a hoax by notorious prankster Spike Jonze intended (somehow) to draw attention to his upcoming film Where the Wild Things Are.
- After Last Season got a one week release in four U.S. theaters.
- Director Mark Region claimed the film cost $5 million to make. Few believed him.
- After the original run, producer/distributor Index Square stopped offering new DVDs for sale, and actor Jason Kulas said Region has told him there are no plans to produce more.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The astoundingly crude computer-generated animation, which often looks like it could have been drawn in MS Paint. The best moment is when a killer’s knife (which looks like an ice cream cone held upside down) emerges from out of a blank wall.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Cardboard MRI; Photoshopped telepathy; invisible ghost
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: “Huh?,” “um…,” and “whah?” are all equally valid responses to After Last Season. This movie may go down as this generation’s Beast of Yucca Flats: stultifyingly dull at times, but so full of misguided directorial choices and failed attempts at cinematic poetry that it takes on a dreamlike character. Watching After Last Season is like trying to follow a old-timey radio serial on an AM station with fading reception: you can tell there’s a voice trying to make itself heard, but the transmission is so garbled that the basics of the story become lost in static and long stretches of dead air. It’s difficult watching, for sure—thus the “beware” rating—but for intrepid curiosity seekers looking to experience the weirdest of the worst, it’s a must see.
Original trailer for After Last Season
COMMENTS: There’s a concept in cinema theory called “film grammar;” it refers to sets of filmmaking conventions that have been proven over time to work to tell a story to an audience in a coherent fashion. A director breaks these “grammatical rules” at the risk of confusing and losing his audience. Here’s a very simple example of a “grammatical” movie “sentence”: a two way conversation starts with a shot of the character who’s speaking, cuts to a reaction shot of the party who’s listening, then cuts back to allow the speaker to finish his thought. In After Last Season director Mark Region consistently exhibits atrocious film grammar: he will have his speaker deliver a line and then pause awkwardly, then cut to a shot of the listener reacting to a few moments of silence, then cut back to the speaker, who resumes his thought. This isn’t a common sort of gaffe; it’s more the equivalent of consistently putting adjectives after nouns. Another norm that should be self-evident that Region likes to break is “don’t focus on long, undramatic shots of furniture during transitions.” He’s not just content to mangle the small-scale standards, either; he breaks the big storytelling rules too, rules like “don’t include a scene of your main character discussing which floor has a working printers unless the discussion has some relationship to the plot,” “don’t have any scenes of completely unnecessary characters discussing genealogy while giggling inappropriately,” and “don’t make one third of your movie a dream sequence unless you have a reason to.” New characters, or shots of exteriors (or furniture), are introduced without any context and edited randomly into ongoing conversations. The results are so incoherent and disorienting that it takes two viewings just to verify that there is a real story hiding somewhere in this mess.
Adding to the oddness, the film seems to have been shot in just two locations: a large, vacant house and a warehouse. A medical examining room appears to be someone’s bedroom, with pink walls, a ceiling fan, and an MRI machine made out of cardboard boxes taped up with sagging contact paper. (The plot doesn’t require an MRI machine, in case you were wondering, but the movie pays it a lot of attention nonetheless). Region is fond of taping pieces of paper to walls; usually, they tell you what set your viewing, such as “Prorolis Corporation,” “Psychology Exercise,” or “Cell 1″; but sometimes he inexplicably tapes blank sheets to the exteriors of buildings. You feel almost saddened for the actors, who aren’t very good or charismatic, but obviously received no help from the script or the director; it’s painful to watch them just standing around, not knowing what to do or how to react as they’re being assaulted by invisible forces throwing chairs or stabbing them with unseen knives. There’s almost no soundtrack, but at times little bursts of a piano or organ playing an odd, semi-melodic series of notes breaks into the action.
This mix of a thin paraspychological plot that’s approximately 50% padding, incoherent storytelling and incompetent production might have produced a bizarre enough concoction, but the weird little cherry on top is the “telepathic” scenes brought to us courtesy of outdated software that was probably originally intended as an aid in architectural design. (The credits tell us it took ten people to put together these sequences, but you would never be able to tell from the what appears onscreen). The resulting visions are blocky, geometric abstract designs. Sometimes they resolve themselves into recognizable objects like automobiles, and in one case into fish in an undersea coral reef made of floating cubes and conic sections. The most ambitious animated scene recreates a murder, with a faceless killer wielding a conical knife against a slow-moving cartoon woman. Mostly, however, we watch abstract shapes floating around in space at different vectors, sometimes colliding and bouncing off each other. These scenes are long and add nothing to the story, but they contain some nice weird and moody sound effects; focus real hard, and you might be able to achieve an altered state of consciousness off them.
After Last Season explicitly raises the topic of schizophrenia: the MRI machine has been used in the past to image psychotic brains, although that doesn’t have much relevance with Matthew and Sarah’s current coursework. The movie itself is not quite schizophrenic—it’s not savage and aggressive enough. A better diagnosis for the film—leaving the “Seasonal Affective Disorder” joke on the table—may be derealization disorder, a condition characterized by “a feeling of unreality or detachment from, or unfamiliarity with, the world, be it individuals, inanimate objects, or all surroundings. The individual may feel as if he or she were in a fog, dream, or bubble.” This description jibes with the reports of an actual theatrical viewer who claimed that the movie left him “not sure what’s real and what’s not.” The disorder also would explain the film’s desperate obsessions with providing directions (there are sudden insert shots of a directional arrows taped to a blank brick wall), with prepositional dialogue explaining the relationships of locations (“I’ve been through that town, but not to it”), and with its clinical attempts to visualize objects (“several cubes are in an empty room…”) The script is intent on orienting itself in space in order to suggest a sense of geographic reality that is belied by its own vague locations. A supposed corporate waiting room looks like folding chairs and a file cabinet set up on the concrete floor of an empty warehouse; a supposed dorm room looks like the same warehouse with a sheet of wallpaper halfheartedly taped to the wall. Ironically, the script never takes the same pains to orient itself in narrative space, that is, to explain to the viewer what the story is actually about and why they should care.
After Last Season is a wretched attempt at moviemaking, but it’s not merely bad; it’s baffling. Even the title is mysterious. The season “after last season” is this season. The obliqueness of the title suggests, one presumes, that something important happened in the past, during “last season.” What that could possibly be is unclear, since it’s unclear what is important in the present season. A ghost who lifts a ruler is met with blank looks and mundane lines of questioning by Matthew and Sarah. Soon after the murderer is apprehended, they return to their separate lives, examining patients in the MRI room and discussing a roommate’s brother’s trip to “an area with a lot of hot mineral springs” with an unknown party on a cell phone. They are barely changed by their experience. And yet, After Last Season cannot be forgotten by viewers as easily the two med students forget the invisible ghost who disarmed the knife-wielding maniac intent on splattering their blood across the blank white walls of “rooms C-D.” Most will find Last Season a painful experience, but the bizarreness of the film and its mysterious ontology exert a fascination in the right sort of person. There is a thorough and unnerving wrongness to the film’s depiction of reality that can only be described as “weird.”
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…things get really weird. Chairs begin to move on their own. Rulers float in mid-air… The weirdest thing about After Last Season is that I saw it in a generic multiplex, with the usual ads and trailers playing before it, in a theater next to one showing the latest Terminator movie. I don’t know how this happened.”–Scott von Doviak, Screengrab in Exile (contemporaneous)
“… if you let the film past that defense mechanism of irony that modern audiences have to erect in between themselves and something this foreign, there’s something going on here that is as exciting as it is unnerving. What exactly that is will be up to the individual viewer, but there’s no question that once you’ve seen it, you will never forget After Last Season.”–Jason Coffman, Film Monthly (contemporaneous)
AFTER LAST SEASON | Official Movie Web Site – Self-described as “a frightening movie.” As of this writing the website is still up, but shows nothing but a blank screen
IMDB LINK: After Last Season (2009)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
Picture a Flat Surface, Part 1: The Enduring Mystery of “After Last Season” – Jason Coffman wrote more than you would ever want to know about After Last Season in this article for Medium, with links to almost every primary source about the film and interviews with much of the cast
Interview : After Last Season’s Mark Region – Interview with Region from Filmmaker Magazine
We Actually Saw AFTER LAST SEASON – The audience (5 people) of an actual theatrical screening of After Last Season discusses the experience in the parking lot afterwards
I Believe in After Last Season – Facebook fan page devoted to the film (lead actor Jason Kulas, who has embraced the film’s notoriety, is very active there)
After Last Season trailer – This is an alternate, more coherent trailer than the one that originally bewildered the Internet; provenance unknown
After Last Season in the Criterion Collection? – Could this April announcement be true?
LIST CANDIDATE: AFTER LAST SEASON (2009) – This site’s preliminary review of After Last Season
DVD INFO: Good luck on finding an actual DVD copy of After Last Season (we keep the one in our offices in a locked vault, along with the original print of London After Midnight and Akira Kurosawa’s never-released sequel Seven More Samurai). Amazon and Ebay searches performed in August 2015 came up empty. If you do manage to find a copy, you’ll get the infamous trailer and an additional 30-second spot as bonus items.
(This movie was first nominated for review by reader “Deacon Lowdown,” who said “the trailer is one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)