08/08/2014 10:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Time Release


After opens like a horror story. An ominous undertow pervades its early frames, giving us the feeling we are watching a scary movie that will tighten its screws and escalate our dread until something too terrifying to endure occurs. The scare doesn't entirely dissipate, but it is eventually displaced by a family saga that stubbornly refuses to lose our interest. Under Pieter Gaspersz's direction, the cast (including Pablo Schreiber, John Doman, Kathleen Quinlan, Diane Neal, Adam Scarimbolo, Darin Dewitt Henson and Sabrina Gennarino, the film's author and co-producer) provide ample reason to keep watching.

A quietly absorbing indie, the picture hides its secrets in plain sight. The tale of a large, tight but fractured working class clan, After uses the mystery of its unspecified central trauma to propel us through its plot, but the calibrated dispensing of withheld information is unnecessary, a distraction from the film's strengths. Indeed the movie's biggest secret is fairly obvious almost from the beginning, though it will take a while before we discover the mechanics through which that secret is kept -- behavior more elaborate than would be entirely convincing were it not for the earnest dedication of the actors and husband-and-wife filmmaking team. Some viewers may question the film's ultimate plot twist, though the loaded choice of its final reveal is somewhat lightened by earlier glimmers of misdirection (such as the well-worn prejudices of some of its characters) that lead us to reconsider, in satisfying ways, all that has gone before.

In the end After does turn out to be a horror story, but a decidedly modern-day one. Its demons include the economic nightmares of contemporary life; the evil business practices sometimes engendered by capitalism; the specters of drink and violence and various other distractions we use to numb ourselves to or divert ourselves from the truth; and -- perhaps most frightening of all -- the futile quest for peace in a universe where the unimaginable horrors of existence today can no longer be reduced to simple right and wrong, innocence or guilt. If they ever could.