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.

Review: ‘Army of the Dead’ (2021), starring Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Tig Notaro, Matthias Schweighöfer and Garret Dillahunt

May 13, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dave Bautista in “Army of the Dead” (Photo by Clay Enos/Netflix)

“Army of the Dead” (2021)

Directed by Zack Snyder

Culture Representation: Taking place in Las Vegas during a zombie apocalypse, the horror flick “Army of the Dead” features a racially diverse cast (Asian, white, African American and Latino) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A ragtag group is enlisted to retrieve $200 million in cash from a casino bank vault before the government drops a nuclear bomb in the zombie-infested area. 

Culture Audience: “Army of the Dead” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in epic and suspenseful zombie thrillers.

Ella Purnell in “Army of the Dead” (Photo by Clay Enos/Netflix)

What’s a filmmaker to do when there are so many movies and TV shows about a zombie apocalypse that cover a lot of the same problems? In the case of director Zack Snyder, you up the ante by making the story about looting a vault filled with $200 million in cash, before the area is detonated by government bomb. That’s the concept of writer/director/producer Snyder’s “Army of the Dead,” which definitely won’t be confused with director Joseph Conti’s 2008 low-budget supernatural horror movie “Army of the Dead,” which was about ghostly conquistadors.

Snyder (who was also the cinematographer for his “Army of the Dead” movie) isn’t new to directing a zombie film, since the previous zombie flick that he directed was the critically acclaimed 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead.” With a total running time of 148 minutes, “Army of the Dead” has a lot of time for viewers to get to know the story’s individual human characters, who each have a distinct and memorable personality. And believe it or not, a few of the zombie characters have semblances of personalities too—or at least a hierachy and customs that they follow—which is a departure from most zombie stories where the zombies only think about killing humans for their next meal.

Is it worth spending nearly two-and-a-half hours of your life watching “Army of the Dead”? It depends. If you’re inclined to watch gory horror movies, then the answer is a definite “yes,” because there’s enough of a good story and suspenseful moments that will keep you riveted. If you can’t stomach seeing brutal battles with blood and guts, then “Army of the Dead” is something that you can skip. The “Army of the Dead” screenplay (written by Snyder, Shay Hatten and Joby Harold) keeps things simple, so that even though there’s a relatively large cast of characters, nothing gets confusing.

“Army of the Dead” opens with a military convoy of trucks and vans somewhere in the Nevada desert, with one of the trucks carrying super-secret cargo. Two military guards named Corp. Bissel (played by Zach Rose) and Sgt. Kelly (played by Michael Cassidy) are in a truck together and speculate about what they might be guarding that’s so top-secret. Bissel thinks it might be an alien from outer space, because whatever is in the mystery truck came from Area 51. Kelly has been told on a walkie talkie to stay away from a truck that’s in the middle of the convoy.

Bissel and Kelly are about to found out what’s in that mysterious truck. A newlywed couple named Mr. Hillman (played by Steve Corona) and Misty Hillman (played by Chelsea Edmundson), who are in a car in the opposite lane of the highway, are engaging in some sexual activity, and the husband takes his eyes off the road while driving. Big mistake. The resulting crash is a big pile-up that ends with a massive explosion that kills the newlyweds and most of the people in the convoy, except for Bissel and Kelly.

The truck that was supposed to be “off limits” topples over. And out comes a zombie named Zeus (played by Richard Cetrone), who immediately goes on a rampage. Bissel and Kelly make a valiant effort to save themselves, but they inevitably become the zombie’s prey and then become zombies themselves.

“Army of the Dead” then fast-forwards to Las Vegas in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, by having a fairly long sequence of opening credits showing much of the action in slow-motion. The movie has many touches of humor, such as zombie showgirls who attack the type of creepy older men who would probably sexually harass them under other circumstances. Zombies have taken over casinos and are shown terrorizing people at slot machines and game tables. And because this is Vegas, there’s at least one Elvis impersonator who’s a zombie.

During all of this mayhem, a news announcement comes on TV that the government will drop a “low-yield, tactical nuclear bomb” in the worst zombie-infested area of Las Vegas, at sunset on (of all days) the Fourth of July. All people in the area have been ordered to evacuate. But a wealthy casino owner named Bly Tanaka (played by Hiroyuki Sanada) has other plans.

Bly’s eponymous high-rise casino is now abandoned and is in the area that’s scheduled to be bombed. The casino has a secret vault filled with $200 million cash. And he wants to get the cash out in time by having other people do the dirty work for him.

Bly visits Scott Ward (played by Dave Bautista), a widower who works as a cook at a diner. Scott isn’t an average diner employee though: He received a Presidential Medal of Freedom for saving several people at the start of the zombie apocalypse. (This heroism is mentioned, but not shown, in the movie.)

And due to his shady past, Scott knows the right people to assemble to get all of that cash out of the vault, even if it means risking their lives in an area crawling with zombies. Bly offers Scott $50 million to do the job and says that it will be up to Scott how Scott wants to divide the payment amongst Scott’s team members. Scott eagerly accepts the challenge because he wants the money to open his own fast-food business.

The decision of where to drop the bomb is controversial because it’s in a quarantine area for people who’ve been suspected of being exposed to zombie infections. In one of the movie’s satirical moments, there’s a TV news debate with political pundits on both sides weighing in on the controversy. Real-life liberal Democrat pundit Donna Brazile (a former acting chair of the Democratic National Committee) and real-life conservative Republican aide Sean Spicer (a former White House press secretary in the Donald Trump administration) are seen in this debate arguing over the ethics of this bombing. Brazile thinks the bombing is a human rights violation, while Spicer thinks the bombing is necessary to ensure the safety of non-infected humans.

Scott’s estranged daughter Kate Ward (played by Ella Purnell) works as a volunteer at the quarantine shelter/refugee camp. Kate has befriended a single mother named Geeta (played by Huma Qureshi), who is desperate to have her two underage children smuggled out of the shelter before the bomb hits. Geeta begs Kate to take the children to the nearby city of Barstow if anything happens to her.

One of the supervisors at the shelter is a sleazy bully named Burt Cummings (played by Theo Rossi), who takes particular pleasure in demeaning women. When he does a thermometer scan of Geeta, he stands too close for comfort and tells her that if she doesn’t like it, he’ll use another way to take her temperature: “I could use my rectal thermometer,” he smirks.

The bomb is supposed to be dropped in 72 hours. But Dave is able to quickly assemble his team. They are:

  • Maria Cruz (played by Ana de la Reguera), a strong-willed mechanic who had a past romance with Scott.
  • Vanderohe (played by Omari Hardwick), a quintessential action hero who has a sensitive side (he works at a retirement home) beneath his tough exterior.
  • Marianne Peters (played by Tig Notaro), a wisecracking helicopter pilot who will be responsible for flying the team’s getaway helicopter.
  • Dieter (played by Matthias Schweighöfer), a socially awkward and nerdy locksmith who will be responsible for cracking the safe’s complex security codes, which change on a regular basis.
  • Mikey Guzman (played by Raúl Castillo), a semi-famous YouTuber who likes to make extreme stunt videos of himself hunting zombies.
  • Chambers (Samantha Win), a feisty but emotionally aloof friend of Mikey’s who only trusts Mikey in the group.
  • Lilly (played by Nora Arnezeder), also known as The Coyote, a cunning warrior type who works at the quarantine shelter and was introduced to the group by Kate.
  • Kate, Scott’s daughter, who insists on being part of the team because she wants some of the money to help Deeta.
  • Martin (played by Garret Dillahunt), a security expert who works for Bly and is there to keep tabs on this motley crew so they won’t steal all the money for themselves.

One of Mikey’s friends named Damon (played by Colin Jones) was also supposed to be part of the team. But a fearful Damon quits early, before they even start their journey, when he finds out that the area they’re going to has a colony of zombies that will be sure to attack. Lilly knows the most about the zombies living in this colony, and she’s the go-to person to come up with strategies on how to outsmart the zombies.

As Lilly tells the rest of the team, these are not ordinary zombies. Regular zombies, which are more common, are called “shamblers” because they don’t think beyond eating and killing. The zombies that are near the casino are called “alphas,” because they’re smarter, faster and stronger than the shambler zombies.

These alpha zombies have formed a tribe headed by a king (Zeus, the same zombie who escaped from the military convoy) and a queen (played by Athena Perample), who expect the rest of the zombie tribe to follow their lead. These zombies, as seen in several parts of the movie, seem to have emotions of anger and sadness. And they also understand things such as bargaining, which might or might not come in handy for this group that will soon invade the alpha zombies’ territory.

“Army of the Dead” keeps things at a fairly energetic pace, although there are a few parts of the movie where people are standing around and talking a little too much. But the action, when it happens, lives up to expectations in intensity and realistic gore. There are some splatter scenes that were deliberately filmed for laughs. The movie also has a male zombie tiger named Valentine, which Lilly says used to be owned by Siegfried and Roy. Valentine is a scene-stealer, even though this creature is nothing but visual effects.

And in this group of opinionated people, there are personality conflicts, of course. Vanderohe doesn’t respect Dieter at first because he thinks Dieter is too wimpy and ill-prepared for the zombie-killing aspects of this mission. Kate has a lot of bitterness toward Scott because of how her mother died. (The death of Kate’s mother/Scott’s wife is shown in a flashback.) And no one seems to really like or trust Bly’s henchman Martin, who has a tendency to be a bossy know-it-all.

The big showdown battle toward the end of the movie is definitely one of the best scenes, as it should be. “Army of the Dead” doesn’t sugarcoat any violence, although there are moments that stretch the bounds of realism with some heavily choreographed stunts. All of the actors play their roles well, with Castillo, Notaro, Schweighöfer and Arnezeder bringing the most individuality to their characters’ personalities. Bautista doesn’t have a wide range of emotive skills as an actor, but “Army of the Dead” is the type of movie that showcases him at his best, rather than the silly action comedies that he sometimes does.

The biggest complaint or disappointment that viewers might have about “Army of the Dead” is regarding the movie’s final five minutes, when a character finds out something that this person should have found out much earlier. It drastically changes the tone of the film’s ending. But this potentially divisive ending doesn’t take away from “Army of the Dead” delivering plenty of thrills and chills that make it a better-than-average zombie movie.

Netflix released “Army of the Dead” in New York City on May 12, 2021, and will expand the movie’s release to more U.S. cinemas on May 14, 2021. Netflix will premiere “Army of the Dead” on May 21, 2021.

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