Review: ‘Monstrous’ (2022), starring Christina Ricci

July 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Christina Ricci in “Monstrous” (Photo by Mercy Hasselblad/Screen Media Films)

“Monstrous” (2022)

Directed by Chris Sivertson 

Culture Representation: Taking place in California, the horror film “Monstrous” has an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A divorced mother moves from Mesa, Arizona, to California, where she and her 7-year-old son start being attacked a ghostly monster that appears to live in a backyard lake.

Culture Audience: “Monstrous” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Christina Ricci and anyone who doesn’t mind watching dull haunted house movies that recycle the same old clichés.

A scene from “Monstrous” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

The only thing that’s monstrous about the limp and boring horror film “Monstrous” is how it’s a waste of time for viewers and a waste of Christina Ricci’s talent. It’s yet another unimaginative horror flick about a family living in an isolated wooded area while being attacked by an evil spirit. There’s a surprise “reveal” toward the end of the movie which is not shocking at all because viewers can see the very obvious clues long before this plot twist is divulged.

Directed by Chris Sivertson and written by Carol Chrest, “Monstrous” is a poorly conceived misfire from start to finish. The movie appears to take place in the mid-1950s, based on the cars in the movie and the way that Ricci’s lead character Laura Butler dresses and styles her hair. Laura, who is divorced, has secretly moved from Mesa, Arizona, to an unnamed city in California with her 7-year-old son Cody (played by Santino Barnard), a generic horror movie kid whose only purpose is to act wide-eyed and scared. You can almost do a countdown to when Cody starts having nightmares.

Laura and Cody are living in a rental farmhouse in an isolated wooded area near a lake. The house owners are an elderly couple named Mr. Langtree (played by Don Durrell, also known as Don Baldaramos) and his wife Leonora (played by Colleen Camp), who both live not too far from the farmhouse. Mr. Langtree (whose first name is never mentioned in the movie) is a lot friendlier than Leonora, who is cranky and suspicious of Laura. Observant viewers who notice how Leonora talks and how she’s dressed won’t be surprised by the “twist” that comes later in the movie.

Laura starts a new job as a typist/secretary in a 1950s-styled office. There’s really no point to these office scenes except to show that Laura’s co-worker Jane (played by Carol Anne Watts) appeared in a prior nonsensical hallucinatory type scene where Laura imagined herself as a terror victim in a 1950s-styled horror movie. Jane appears in this imaginary horror flick and tells Laura, “Don’t be afraid.”

Why did Laura and Cody abruptly and secretly move to California? It’s because Laura is living in fear of her abusive ex-husband Scott (voiced by Matt Lovell), who is never seen in the movie but is heard on the phone when he makes menacing calls to Laura. Scott’s physical and emotional abuse of Laura, which Cody has witnessed, is the main reason why Laura divorced Scott.

Laura has sole custody of Cody, but Scott has visitation rights. Laura has decided she wants to go into hiding because she doesn’t want Scott to see her and Cody anymore. Somehow, Scott finds out Laura’s new phone number. And when Scott calls her, she’s horrified and hangs up immediately before any conversation can happen.

Soon afterward, Laura’s mother (voiced by Nancy O’Fallon) calls. Laura tells her mother (who doesn’t have a first name in the movie) that Scott called Laura just a few minutes earlier. And then, Laura’s mother admits that she went against Laura’s wishes to keep her new phone number a secret, and she gave Laura’s new phone number to a few people. Scott could’ve have gotten the phone number from one of those people.

Laura scolds her mother for this breach of trust. And now, Laura fears that Scott might be coming to California for a confrontation. Laura’s mother says to her: “He just wants to talk to you. He feels so bad.”

Laura replies, “I don’t care how he feels. I don’t know how you can speak to him after what he did. You’re supposed to be on our side. Grandma would be!”

The “grandma” Laura is speaking about is the mother of Laura’s mother. “Monstrous” has some tedious flashbacks of Laura remembering her childhood that she spent with her grandmother. (Lola Grace, also known as Lola Grace Holmes, portrays Laura as a child.) These flashbacks are filmed in a hokey way.

For example, the adult Laura is seen sitting in a chair underneath a blanket, which segues to a flashback of Laura as a child sitting underneath a blanket in the attic of her childhood home. Her grandmother (played Rachael Edlow) then approaches Laura, removes the blanket, and then says to Laura, “I thought it was Mrs. Seton’s ghost.”

The purpose of the flashback scenes is to show that Laura’s grandmother had psychic abilities to see ghosts. And maybe Laura does too. When Cody starts having nightmares, he tells her that a female ghost comes out of the backyard lake and attacks him. At first, Laura doesn’t believe Cody until it starts happening to Laura.

Cody wants to go back to Mesa, and he says he’s forgiven his father. However, Laura feels the opposite way. Expect to see some arguing back-and-forth between Laura and Cody over these issues. Oscar-winning “Green Book” co-writer Nick Vallelonga has a small and useless role as a legionnaire who dances with Laura when she goes to a bar to meet new people.

The monster continues to appear at the farmhouse and takes many forms, with none being truly terrifying. Sometimes it looks like a creature with tentacles. Sometimes it looks like a swamp woman. During one laughably bad part of the movie, the monster ends up on the house’s roof, looking like someone in a cheap Halloween costume.

Laura tells the Langtrees about the monster attacks, but these two landlords are skeptical. Leonora insists that Laura probably just saw a raccoon. And then another horror cliché kicks into gear: The woman who’s attacked by an evil spirit is not believed, and people start to think she’s mentally ill and that she’s the one who’s the problem.

Laura has a psychiatrist in Arizona named Dr. Weaver (voiced by Chris Mullinax), whom she calls and asks if she can go back on the medication she was on before she moved to California. He tells her it’s not a good idea. Laura also calls a local Catholic church to report that there’s a demon in her house. A nun named Sister Agnes (voiced by Anjoum Agrama), takes the call, but then hangs up on Laura.

All of it is just so mind-numbingly predictable, as the movie drags on and on with more uninspired scenarios of the monster emerging from the lake and continuing to go after Cody and Laura. “Monstrous” is such a relentlessly dull horror move, the intended jump scares could put people to sleep. Ricci seems to be trying hard to make everything convincing, but she’s stuck in a horror movie that is thoroughly unconvincing at being scary or even the bare minimum of interesting.

The “reveal” in “Monstrous” is quite anti-climactic, but you can tell the “Monstrous” filmmakers thought it would be a clever twist, even though there are many other horror movies that have already done versions of this plot twist. In other words, it’s not clever at all. It just exposes more plot holes in “Monstrous.” Viewers will forget this dreadful movie quicker than you can say “M. Night Shyamalan ripoff.”

Screen Media Films released “Monstrous” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on May 13, 2022. The movie was released on Blu-ray and DVD on July 5, 2022.

Review: ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jessica Henwick, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris and Jada Pinkett Smith

December 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in “The Matrix Resurrections” (Photo by Murray Close/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Matrix Resurrections”

Directed by Lana Wachowski

Culture Representation: Taking place in San Francisco, Tokyo and various parts of the universe, the sci-fi action flick “The Matrix Resurrections” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Thomas Anderson, also known as universe-saving hero Neo, gets pulled out of his “normal” life and back into the Matrix, as he strives to reunite with his long-lost love Trinity.

Culture Audience: “The Matrix Revolutions” will appeal primarily to people who are die-hard fans of “The Matrix” franchise and star Keanu Reeves, because everyone else will be easily lose interest in the movie’s jumbled and monotonous plot.

Jessica Henwick, Keanu Reeves and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in “The Matrix Resurrections” (Photo by Murray Close/Warner Bros. Pictures)

If you’re not familiar with any of the previous “Matrix” movies, then “The Matrix Resurrections” doesn’t care about you. The visual effects and stunts are dazzling, but this sci-fi/action movie’s plot is convoluted and duller than it should have been. Many people who’ve seen the previous Matrix movies will get confused or bored. You really need encyclopedic “Matrix” knowledge and an excellent memory to keep track of all the references to the previous “Matrix” movies that “The Matrix Resurrections” keeps dumping in the story without a proper explanation or much context.

Even if you prepare to watch “The Matrix Resurrections” by watching or re-watching the previous “Matrix” movies, you’ll notice that “The Matrix Resurrections” doesn’t do anything clever or innovative with the story. It’s just a tangled and tedious retelling of a basic adventure concept of a male hero going to a lot of trouble to impress and save the woman he loves.

In “The Matrix Resurrections,” which is the fourth movie in “The Matrix” film series, Lana Wachowski returns as a solo director, after co-directing the previous three “Matrix” films with her younger sister, Lilly Wachowski. The three previous films are 1999’s “The Matrix” (still the best one in the series), 2003’s “The Matrix Reloaded” and 2003’s “The Matrix Revolutions.” The first “Matrix” movie earned four well-deserved Academy Awards: Best Visual Efects, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

Lana Wachowski co-wrote “The Matrix Resurrections” with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon. These screenwriters have a clear disregard for the possibility that “The Matrix Resurrections” might be the first “Matrix” movie that some people will ever see. There is almost no attempt in “The Matrix Resurrections” to clearly explain what happened in the previous “Matrix” movies. When familiar characters appear in “The Matrix Resurrections,” viewers who are new to the franchise will not have an understanding of how these characters are relevant to the story, unless viewers know what these characters did in the previous “Matrix” movies.

There are some flashback scenes in “The Matrix Resurrections,” but they do little or nothing to explain the purpose of the characters who are shown in the flashbacks. Pity anyone who watches “The Matrix Resurrections” without this basic knowledge: Thomas Anderson, also known as Neo (played by Keanu Reeves), is the chosen hero, who is called The One, in an ongoing battle over control of humans and other beings in the universe. There’s an alternate world called the Matrix, where people are under the delusion that the world they live in is reality, but the Matrix is in fact a simulated reality.

In the first “Matrix” movie, Neo had a mentor named Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne), who gave Neo the choice between taking a blue pill or a red pill. The blue pill would ensure that Neo would continue to live a blissful but delusional existence. The red pill would open Neo’s eyes to the truth. Neo took the red pill.

During Neo’s battle to save the universe in the first “Matrix” movie, Neo met another warrior named Trinity (played by Carrie-Anne Moss), and they fell in love. Neo and Trinity are soul mates and the biggest love of each other’s life. Their biggest nemesis was Agent Smith (played by Hugo Weaving), who had the ability to shapeshift and morph into other people or clones of himself. This is an essential detail to have some understanding of “The Matrix Resurrections,” because when Agent Smith’s name is first uttered in the movie and he appears in disguise, viewers need to know why this character is such a big deal.

At the beginning of “The Matrix Reurrections,” which does a lot of time-jumping and traveling between various realities, Neo/Thomas is “retired” from his “saving the universe” legacy. He’s living and working in San Francisco as an award-winning, legendary video game designer at a company he co-founded called Deus Machina, where he works with people who are mostly in their 20s and 30s. Thomas is famous because he designed a blockbuster video game series called “The Matrix” that’s based on his own experiences.

Even though Thomas has achieved the pinnacle of success in this industry, he remains humble and low-key. His ambitious and greedy business partner Smith (played by Jonathan Groff) has coaxed a reluctant Thomas to do a fourth installment of “The Matrix” video game series. Smith mentions that Deus Machina’s parent company is Warner Bros., which is the movie’s way of referencing “The Matrix” movie franchise distributor Warner Bros. Pictures. There’s a self-deprecating “wink wink, nudge nudge” tone to the number of times that “The Matrix Resurrections” refers to this fourth installment (of Thomas’s video game series and this movie) as being a cash grab, until the joke is repeated so many times that it gets very old.

As for business partner Smith, the significance of the name is so obvious, when a big reveal about this character arrives, it’s actually no big surprise. (This reveal is already in one of the movie’s trailers.) He’s slick and has some high-octane fight scenes, but he’s not a particularly interesting adversary when he gets into conflicts with Thomas/Neo. Much like “The Matrix Resurrections,” Smith in this movie is very superficial and flashy with not much substance.

Thomas/Neo has been having nightmares or hallucinations, so he’s in therapy. And if he seems like a heartbroken loner, that’s because he is. He’s still pining for Trinity. But he’ll get his chance to reunite with her, because that’s essentially the main goal in this muddled film that takes too long (two hours and 28 minutes) to tell a story that could’ve been told in two hours or less.

Whenever “The Matrix Resurrections” gets stuck in a plot rut (and it happens a lot), it shows Thomas waking up from a “hallucination,” and he’s in the therapist office of his unnamed analyst (played by Neil Patrick Harris), who seems to know everything about Thomas. There’s a scene in the movie where Thomas/Neo looks in a mirror and finds out that his physical appearance is not what he thinks it is: He looks like an elderly man (played by Steven Roy) to many people.

The movie keeps people guessing on what’s reality and what’s not reality for Thomas/Neo, until it reaches a point when a lot of viewers won’t care much anymore. “The Matrix Resurrections” has too many gimmicks that are meant to deliberately confuse viewers. After a while, all these gimmicks are a turnoff. A big reveal toward the end the movie is not surprising because the movie telegraphs it many times.

Thomas’ identity as Neo has long been dormant, because most people think Neo is dead. However, a young computer hacker named Bugs (played by Jessica Henwick) has discovered that Neo is alive and well. In flashbacks, Bugs tells people how she found out: She works as a skyscraper window washer and saw Neo disguised as another man as he was about to jump off a nearby high-rise building. Bugs saw Neo jump off of the building and survive, so Bugs has been on a quest to find Neo ever since.

Of course, in a movie like “The Matrix Resurrections,” Bugs is no ordinary window washer/computer hacker. She has combat skills on the level of a super-soldier in a video game. Bugs has a computer hacking sidekick named Sequoia (played by Toby Onwumere), who’s mostly a virtual reality operator telling her what’s going on in alternate realities. Don’t expect a logical explanation for many of the identities of the new characters introduced in “The Matrix Resurrections.” It just seems like the filmmakers just made up things as they went along.

Bugs finds Neo, of course, and she takes it upon herself to be his “protector” when things go awry. Another person who finds Neo is the young-man version of Morpheus (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who predictably brings out that red pill and blue pill again for Neo to choose which path Neo’s life will take. However, anyone who’s seen any of the previous “Matrix” movies knows that Neo’s life was pre-ordained anyway.

One day, Thomas/Neo is hanging out at a coffee shop with a Deus Machina co-worker named Jude Gallagher (played by Andrew Lewis Caldwell), when Thomas/Neo sees Trinity, and Jude notices that Thomas/Neo seems attracted to her. However, Thomas/Neo pretends to Jude that he’s never met Trinity before. Thomas/Neo is too shy to approach her, so Jude (who tells Thomas/Neo that he thinks she’s a “MILF”) approaches Trinity on behalf of Thomas/Neo and makes the introduction.

Thomas/Neo is dismayed to find out that Trinity’s memory appears to have been blocked or erased, because she doesn’t know him when he starts talking to her. She’s now living as a woman named Tiffany, who builds and repairs motorcycles for a living. She’s also married to a guy named Chad (played by “John Wick” series director Chad Stahelski) and they have three underage kids together. At the coffee shop, Neo briefly meets Chad and two of the kids.

Later in the movie, Thomas/Neo and Trinity/Tiffany meet again at the same coffee shop, where she tells him that she thinks that she looks like Trinity in “The Matrix” video games. Trinity/Tiffany also says that when she mentioned the physical resemblance to her husband, he just laughed at her. It’s the first sign that Trinity/Tiffany might have a glimmer of recognition that maybe she had another life with Neo that has long been buried.

It’s enough to convince Neo to want to save Trinity from her blocked memory and get her back in his life. Along the way, he gets in numerous fights with people, creatures and machines that want to stop him in this quest. Bugs and Morpheus are also in most of these fight scenes with Neo. Also along for the ride to help Neo are young, good-looking combat warriors Lexy (played by Eréndira Ibarra) and Berg (played by Brian J. Smith), who look like they came from a modeling agency assembly line.

If you don’t know the purpose of Agents and Sentinels in the “Matrix” movies, then skip “The Matrix Resurrections.” If you have no idea who Niobe (played by Jada Pinkett Smith) and Sati (played as an adult by Priyanka Chopra Jonas) are and why they’re important to “The Matrix” saga, then skip “The Matrix Resurrections.” If you don’t care about the differences between the battle ships Nebuchadnezzar, the Hammer, and the Logos, then skip “The Matrix Resurrections.”

Simply put: “The Matrix Resurrections” can be extremely alienating to anyone who isn’t a die-hard, obsessive “Matrix” fan. Sometimes, people just to turn their brain off and watch an action-filled sci-fi movie. But most viewers don’t want to watch a movie sequel where their brains have to work overtime trying to figure out what’s going on and who certain characters are. And some of the characters didn’t need to be in the movie at all, such as Deus Machina executive Gwyn de Vere (played by Christina Ricci), which is a small, inconsequential role that’s a waste of Ricci’s talent.

If viewers get confused over what’s going in “The Matrix Resurrections,” it’s because “The Matrix Resurrections” filmmakers made the arrogant assumption that everyone watching should have seen all the previous “Matrix” movies. Therefore, a lot of “inside jokes” in “The Matrix Resurrections” are not as impactful as they could’ve been if the previous three “Matrix” movies had been better explained in “The Matrix Resurrections.” However, the screenplay and editing still make the movie very difficult to follow for people who’ve seen the previous “Matrix” movies but have hazy memories about them.

In between the action scenes of “The Matrix Resurrections” are characters standing around or sitting in meetings that are quite boring. A great deal of what they discuss is shared history that will be meaningless to viewers who don’t know anything about this shared history because they haven’t seen the previous “Matrix” movies. It’s like going to a class reunion when you never even went to the school.

Although the visual effects and stunts are the best things of “The Matrix Resurrections,” they’re not enough to make the movie feel like a relatable human saga. All of the acting is mediocre or just plain awful. The dialogue isn’t much better.

The movie’s attempts at comedy usually fall flat, including the silly and useless end-credits scene. Throughout the movie, Reeves seems like he’s sleepwalking through some of his lines of dialogue. That’s not what you want for a protagonist in what’s supposed to be a high-energy action flick.

“The Matrix Resurrections” seems so enamored with its parade of sci-fi and technological tricks, it fails to bring enough in the story that will make viewers feel connected to the characters in a relatable way. Unfortunately, “The Matrix Resurrections” leaves new viewers of the franchise in the dark about essential, interpersonal histories about many of the characters. Other viewers who know all about familiar “Matrix” characters before seeing “The Matrix Resurrections” might still end up feeling disconnected and disappointed that they haven’t learned anything fascinating at all.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “The Matrix Resurrections” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on December 22, 2021.

Review: ‘Here After’ (2021), starring Andy Karl, Nora Arnezeder and Christina Ricci

August 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

Christina Ricci and Andy Karl in “Here After” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Here After” (2021)

Directed by Harry Greenberger

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the romantic drama “Here After” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A dead bachelor is stuck in a purgatory-like existence and is told that he won’t get into heaven unless he can find and get together with his soul mate. 

Culture Audience: “Here After” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching dumb, badly written romantic comedies that have an offensive and ridiculous concept that people’s lives aren’t worthwhile unless they end up with a soul mate.

Nora Arnezeder and Andy Karl in “Here After” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

There are enough bad romantic movies built on the lie that people are worthless unless they’re with a soul mate. The odious “Here After” is even more pathetic because of its concept that people without soul mates can’t go to heaven. If you can tolerate this garbage idea being played out to annoying levels for two hours—which is way too long for a movie that has such a weak story and shoddy filmmaking—then be prepared to sink into the cloying and contrived muck of “Here After.”

Written and directed by Harry Greenberger, “Here After” was previously titled “Faraway Eyes.” The movie’s original title presumably was inspired by a line in the film where one of the characters gives a corny compliment by telling another character that this person has “faraway eyes.” The only thing that’s “far away” when it comes to this movie is anything to do with quality filmmaking.

“Here After” begins with the death of a New York City-based actor named Michael (played by Andy Karl), a bachelor in his 40s. He’s dead because while driving his car on a highway, he stopped the car to reach on his car floor to get a quarter to pay for a toll fare, and he got hit by a truck. And now, the first thing that viewers see in “Here After” is Michael’s bloodied face, as he lies face-up on a mystical gurney, as he spews a rambling monologue about his life.

You know a movie is going to be excruciating to watch when the first line is Michael saying, “Once bread becomes toast, it can never become bread again.” The filmmakers think viewers of this movie are so stupid that somehow people are supposed to believe that toasted bread isn’t bread anymore. Brace yourself for more cringeworthy nonsense because this movie is full of it.

Michael then goes on to describe a sexual encounter when he was 16, with an older redhead named Stephanie. He talks about how his younger sister walked in and saw that Michael was tied to the bed during this encounter. And he was even more embarrassed when his sister told his parents.

What does this story have to do with the rest of this movie? Absolutely nothing. It’s just an example of random things dumped in this movie’s screenplay to try to make the movie look “edgy” and “titillating.” In actuality, “Here After” is filled with tiresome cliché after timesome cliché found in movies about lonely bachelors looking for love.

Michael is transported to a high-rise office that has a bright white glow. All of the injuries that he got from his fatal car accident have now disappeared. It’s in this mysterious office that he meets business-suit-wearing Scarlett (played by Christina Ricci), who tells Michael that he’s dead, and then she proceeds to interview him. Scarlett asks Michael what his last memory was before he died.

This question leads to Michael talking about his most recent breakup. He and his live-in girlfriend Amy (played by Florencia Lozano) were at an airport waiting area to get on a flight for a romantic vacation. But instead of getting on the plane together, Amy (who’s crying and very drunk) decides to break up with Michael.

Amy has had drunken break-ups with Michael before, but this time she means it. Michael sees no point in taking the trip, so he leaves the airport. While driving on the highway, he gets hit by a truck in the accident that killed him.

Scarlett tells Michael, “You’re dead. There are some loose ends … You died single. That left your soul incomplete. Souls cross over in pairs—and only in pairs. You have to find a soul mate.”

And so, most of the movie is about Michael being stuck in a spiritual limbo on Earth, as he looks for his soul mate among all the other spirits who are wandering on Earth. Other dead people in ghost form who are in his same situation make varying degrees of effort to find their soul mates. Some are anxious about it, while others don’t seem to care at all.

Because he’s a ghost, Michael has the ability to travel anywhere on Earth to find his soul mate. But he sticks to the places he knew best when he was alive and looking to meet women: bars and strip clubs in New York City. In other words, this movie didn’t have the budget to film in several other cities.

People who are still alive aren’t supposed to be able to see or communicate with these ghosts, but the ghosts can see people who are still alive. In this purgatory-like existence, the ghosts can move objects, but the ghosts cannot experience material things like they could when they are alive, except for drinking alcohol. They can drink as much alcohol as they want but can’t get drunk. For example, ghosts cannot taste food or use phones to call people who are still alive. If a TV is on in a room, the ghosts only see a blank screen.

According to Scarlett, during this search for a soul mate, sex is not allowed or not possible, because she says the love between soul mates is supposed to be “pure,” and lust can cloud people’s judgment of who’s the correct soul mate. It’s an oddly puritanical part of the movie, considering that this film has nudity and crude sexual talk. Maybe it’s just an excuse for the film not to show ghosts having sex with each other, because even that might be too crazy for this morbid movie that’s about a dead man who falls in love with someone after he dies.

Scarlett randomly shows up from time to time to check on Michael’s progress while he’s on this quest for a soul mate. She says ominous things to warn him that his time is running out, such as what will happen if he doesn’t find a soul mate: “You cease to exist, and the world goes on without you.” Later in the movie, Michael knows his time is running out because he sees his body start to flicker, like a light bulb that’s about to burn out and go dead.

Michael has some boring and uninteresting encounters with female ghosts at some of the nightspots that he visits to try to find his soul mate. One of these women is named Susan (played by Jackie Cruz), who also died in a car accident. Her reaction to Michael is similar to the reactions of almost every woman whom Michael awkwardly approaches: They’re not interested or completely turned off by him.

Michael also goes to his apartment and looks on as his parents (Ray Iannicelli and Jeannie Berlin) and sister Abby (played by Heidi Germaine Schnappauf) go through his possessions to decide which ones to keep and which ones will get thrown out or given away. Michael says out loud, even though no one else can hear him: “I can’t believe I missed my own funeral!”

However, Michael gets some insight into how his family felt about him, as he eavesdrops on their conversation. Michael’s mother expresses disappointment that Michael never fulfilled his dream of being a famous actor. Meanwhile, Michael’s father says that he’s satisfied with how Michael’s life turned out, because all he wanted as a parent was for Michael to be a kind person and true to himself.

At the time of his death, Michael had been set to star in a one-man play (which he also wrote), but he never got the chance to debut the play to the public because he died. However, Michael gets a rude awakening when, as a ghost, he sees that the play’s producer Jay (played by Richard Topol) wants to re-cast the show as soon as it would be appropriate, in order for Jay to not lose his investment. Michael is shocked and insulted because he thought that the play would be shelved, out of respect for his death. It’s an indication of Michael’s naïvety about show business.

The play is the least of Michael’s problems, because he wants to find a soul mate before he becomes someone who will “cease to exist.” So what’s a bachelor ghost who’s unlucky in love to do? Michael visits the apartment of his dead best friend Angelo (played by Michael Rispoli), to see if Angelo is a ghost in the same situation. And what do you know, Angelo is. Unlike neurotic Michael, Angelo isn’t at all concerned about finding a soul mate. Angelo just wants to hang out at his apartment and drink alcohol.

And here’s where the stereotypes really kick in for a movie about a lovelorn bachelor: He has a best friend who’s crude and extremely cynical about love. Angelo checks all the predictable boxes for this type of vulgar character. This is what Angelo has to say about his sexuality as a ghost: “Jerking off is like driving in neutral—ghost dick.”

But there’s an extra layer of creepiness to Angelo because he takes advantage of being a ghost by spying on naked women in gym locker rooms. (And yes, it’s shown in the movie.) Michael has a conversation with Angelo during one of these sleazy voyeur sessions and acts like it’s okay for his best friend to be a Peeping Tom.

The clichés go into overdrive when Michael goes to a bar and meets someone who will be his obvious love interest. She’s a French immigrant, and her name is Honey Bee (played by Nora Arnezeder), which she says is her real name. Michael and Honey Bee start off their “meet cute” moment with some sarcastic banter back and forth.

She tells Michael that she’s an aspiring photographer who makes money as an office worker and a dog walker to pay her bills. She’s at the bar because she’s waiting to meet a friend named Faith (played by Nikki M. James), who’s running late. Romantic sparks fly between Honey Bee and Michael.

But there’s one big problem: Honey Bee is still alive, and Michael can only get out of purgatory with a soul mate who has died. Why is it that Honey Bee can see and talk to Michael? Because she’s psychic and she can see dead people. Somewhere, Haley Joel Osment from “The Sixth Sense” is laughing.

Honey Bee is not just a psychic. She’s also a stereotypical Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the label for a story’s quirky young woman whose sole purpose is to be the love interest of a lonely, usually sad-for-some-reason guy. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl’s offbeat charm is supposed to cheer up the guy, and they fall in love. “Here After” follows this trope in such unoriginal ways, they might as well have given Honey Bee the name Manic Pixie instead.

“Here After” also uses the tedious cliché of pairing a male protagonist who’s older than 40 with a love interest who’s at least 15 years younger. It’s as if the filmmakers think that charismatic and fun-loving women over the age of 40 simply cannot be interesting to men in that same age demographic. When actresses over the age of 40 talk about being shut out of love interest roles by (usually male) filmmakers who think they’re too old, “Here After” is an example of that problem.

The movie throws in a dreadfully written #MeToo subplot of Honey Bee getting stalked by her former boss Patrick (played by Alex Hurt), an arrogant jerk who sexually harassed her when she worked for him as his assistant. She quit that job because she couldn’t take his degrading treatment any longer. Patrick is obsessed with wanting Honey Bee to be his girlfriend. It just checks off another cliché: the “love triangle,” with the third person (who’s usually very jealous) intent on ruining the potential romance between the protagonist and the protagonist’s love interest.

The movie gets much worse as it goes on. And because it telegraphs so early that the only way that Michael can “get to the other side” is if he has a soul mate who is also dead, viewers can easily predict what will happen. How this movie’s “love triangle” is resolved is truly vile. The “Here After” filmmakers obviously think this is a romantic movie, but the way that death is used for tacky plot developments shows how tone-deaf and trashy this movie really is.

It’s too bad that such a talented cast is stuck in this crappy movie. Karl is best known as a Broadway star, but being in “Here After” is not going to increase his chances of getting leading-man roles in quality films. It doesn’t help that Michael has the personality of a slug, and he has to utter awful lines like: “Jesus, Mary and Johnny Weissmuller! What do I have to do to get out of this town?”

Ricci is the most well-known cast member in “Here After.” She’s a very accomplished actress who deserves better than to be in this horrible film. Luckily for her, her total screen time is less than 15 minutes.

As for Arnezeder, she’s stuck playing a “damsel in distress” type who’s afraid to stand up to her stalker because she doesn’t want him to think that she’s rude. Michael has to teach Honey Bee how to be brave when she has to deal with Patrick. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

“Here After” seems to want to be a romantic classic like 1990’s “Ghost.” But “Here After” is so dreadful, that it gets all of the elements of romance wrong and makes some very misogynistic choices. The character of Michael isn’t the only thing that’s dead in “Here After.” This movie’s entire idiotic concept was dead on arrival.

Vertical Entertainment released “Here After” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and on VOD on July 23, 2021.

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