August 6, 2021
by Carla Hay
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.
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.