REASON: When a scientist makes national news proving she can track people into the afterlife, Rose (Parker) sees a way out, and Teddy (Kohli) sees his chance to finally make it. These two strangers, both harboring dark secrets, race to join the doctor’s controversial investigation and leave this life.
REVIEW: Next Exit takes a topic that has been done to death (contact with the dead) and breathes some new life into the concept. Taking a more scientific approach, the film assumes they can track your ascension into the afterlife. For those who want to escape the shackles of life, this is their solution. It’s pretty dark, but despite most of it revolves around the idea of contacting deceased loved ones, Next Exit can be quite fun. There is plenty of levity brought to each scene while still keeping things grounded. It can get pretty dark at times because it deals with some pretty intense subject matter. Heck, the two leaders are essentially on a death march.
Rose (Katie Parker) is lost in the world and convinced that she sees her dead mother wherever she goes. When the Life Beyond Institute announces their “breakthrough with the afterlife” Rose is immediately on board. But when she refuses to fly to California, she must instead take a cross-country road trip to get to the institute. There’s just one problem: she has to take fellow contestant Teddy (Rahul Kohli) with her. Watch them not get along in a fairly standard, road-comedy way. If anything, their emotional journey is a little unbelievable considering how much they seem to dislike each other.
After Midnight mass, I will see Rahul Kohli in almost anything as he delivered a layered, nuanced performance. Fortunately, here he plays Teddy, a man trying to get to the Beyond Life event, and he gets to paint with a slightly different brush. He’s a bit more of an arrogant asshole with a softer side. He has given up on life and finally feels he has a purpose, now he has decided to end it. While the performances are great, there were some character traits I wasn’t sure about. In fact, many of his interactions with Rose and Teddy make them more unlikeable (randomly robbing a gas station, drunken brawls at a bar, lying about their destination). So I think it’s mostly the strong acting that somehow still makes you want to go on a journey with these people.
I love NBCs Ghosts so it was nice to see Rose McIver pop up as Rose’s sister, Heather. The role is really short, but plays a really key role in understanding Rose as a person. I’m not going to lie, the minute Karen Gillan showed up in full Elizabeth Holmes mode, I didn’t trust the Life Beyond institute. I’m not sure if it was on purpose, but it certainly made my “fraud” senses tingle. I really wanted more of her character and she is way too little in the movie and she only appears in promotional videos.
Mali Elfman, who comes from royalty, wrote and directed countless short films that had previously been shown on Fantasia. Next Exit marks her feature film debut and she does a wonderful job. It seems that Mike Flanagan has a big influence on her work, as the production could almost be mistaken for one of his. Heck, just look at the recurring actors. But that is by no means a bad thing. She uses some very interesting images like the ghost appearing on the television before slowly fading to static. Then there’s the whole “afterlife landscape” which is really beautiful, especially for how low budget the film is. And Mali clearly took her father’s understanding of film scores because they are absolute aces. Ariel Marx did an absolutely fantastic job and really made certain moments better (especially the last ten minutes).
There is a lot to like Next Exit, from its wonderful performance to its intriguing concept. But the most exciting aspect is the convincing voice of the young filmmaker Mali Elfman, who with this has proven that she will be a strong voice in the cinema for years to come. Here’s hoping she continues down the horror path and continues to tell interesting stories. I know I will be there for her second effort.
Next Exit is currently showing at Fantasia Fest 2022!