‘After Image’ tries way too hard to be more clever than it really is

[rating=1]Starring: John Mellencamp, Terrylene, Louise Fletcher, Billy Burke, Michael Selniker, Michael Twaine
Director(s): Robert Manganelli
Writer(s): Tony Schillaci, Robert Manganelli

John Mellencamp and Terrylene in 'After Image'
John Mellencamp and Terrylene in ‘After Image’

Reading the back of the DVD jacket for After Image, you’re set up with the comparisons to movies like One Hour Photo and Insomnia. The problem with this — at least to me — is that both are a bit overrated. The next is you ultimately hold After Image up to them, and it doesn’t really compare.

After Image is an example of a movie that is trying waaay too hard. The style of the film itself seems to want to elevate it above the rather odd story. The problem with this is the story itself is not terribly interesting, with a strange mixture of science fiction with a serial killer “mystery” that isn’t really a mystery. Not one that seemed terribly interested in being solved, anyway.

The other issue is the acting, which is weak throughout. That combined with the over direction of the visuals and editing, your left with a movie that is difficult to sit through and even more difficult to get into.

After Image is about a crime scene photographer named Joe (John Mellencamp) who has taken one too many pictures of dead girls. Mentally exhausted, he takes time off and returns home to visit his aunt (Louise Fletcher), as well as his mentally challenged brother (Billy Burke). Disabled due to advanced diabetes, his aunt gets help with small things around the house by Laura (Terrylene), a deaf woman who soon develops a relationship with Joe.

But a murderer has followed the crime scene photographer from the big city to his small home town, and he continues his rampage of killing young girls in hopes that Joe will once more take pictures of his work.

I think there’s a good chance that the script for After Image read much better than the final product. The story isn’t bad, and most likely moved faster and better than the finished film, which struggles so hard to be stylish but falls flat. Forget that the story’s conclusion is awkward and poorly resolved, After Image is filled with unnecessary visuals that really don’t advance the story. Its like the director was desperately trying to make his film seem more complex than it really was.

Watching the behind the scenes documentary about After Image, which is included on the DVD, does help put the movie into perspective. Made on a small budget by a first time director, the style and over effort make sense. Ultimately what you have is someone who was just trying to make a cerebral character piece, but didn’t really seem to know how to do it.

The worst element of the movie is the sci-fi angle that Laura, the deaf woman, has visions. This unnecessary element seemed only useful to throw in repeated moments of nudity (none of which are that interesting or required). They don’t actually affect the story at all, and the one time one of her visions actually has some chance of helping, they don’t. While I thought the choice to make her deaf was good, the character is derailed completely by the psychic nonsense.

The comparison to One Hour Photo really comes through the fact that you know who the murderer is from the very beginning, and there are several scenes documenting his insanity. Unfortunately, very little of it makes sense. There isn’t anything about these scenes that really help explain why this guy is obsessed with Joe, and his need to video tape himself is just confusing. Sadly, the film’s ending does nothing to shed any light on the character’s motivations.

However, the distracting visuals and story elements pale in comparison to the weak performances that littered After Image. Mellencamp isn’t that bad an actor, but his character really isn’t given enough for him to do. Standing around looking moody only goes so far, and while I liked the idea of a crime scene photographer going through a crisis, it doesn’t carry through well. Terrylene looks uncomfortable in nearly every scene and doesn’t have much expression.

But the performance that really derails the production is the cop who investigates the series of murders, Detective Conway, played by Michael Twaine. Most of the time he just seemed excited to be working on a movie that he doesn’t even appear to be acting at all, stumbling through his scenes with a wink and a smile. Fletcher manages to raise the bar a little, and the scenes between her and Mellencamp are the movie’s best. Burke also turns in a strong performance, although his character as Joe’s brother, Sammy, is horribly underutilized.

As I mentioned earlier, the DVD has a behind the scenes featurette that rushes through the production a bit, but does a good job of expressing the trouble the producer and director went through in order to get After Image made. I would have liked to have seen some retrospective interviews, as everything was shot on location, but still it was a honest look at the making of the movie. There is also a short featurette on the special effects used to depict the murder victims.

Rated: R
Run Time: 1 hr., 32 mins.

Michael Sheridan

Michael Sheridan has written, directed and produced more than a dozen short films under the banner of Maynard Films, and has worked as a writer for more than a decade for websites, magazines and newspapers.

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