This is the third installment of the “Psychotronic Cinema” series. (What is psychotronic cinema?)
After Last Season is both notorious in certain online circles and a relatively unknown entity. Certain YouTubers have amplified its visibility over the last few years (and last few weeks, incidentally), but it still certainly hasn’t risen to the badfilm echelons occupied by the likes of Tommy Wiseau and Neil Breen.
But it deserves to be in that lowly pantheon.
The film opens in a “hospital” where a man is getting an MRI. The “MRI scanner” appears to be constructed of paper (sheets of paper also line the walls). The actor playing the technician stumbles over her line and has to start it over, something not edited out of the finished film. Shots hold on static images of ceiling fans and doors for far longer than a shot would normally hold, creating large absences in the scene that crater the pacing and make the whole thing feel alien.
The following scene continues to fixate on this MRI machine, with another doctor discussing various uses of the machine to two pre-med students. The scene goes on with significant gaps between speech and edits which make it seem as though each actor is filming their lines at different times. Their dialogue speaks to exactly how an MRI functions and what a technological marvel it is. (To be clear, the MRI machine does not factor heavily into the plot of this film).
This is the first 10 minutes of After Last Season. If you’re familiar with the films of Wiseau or Breen, then this likely sounds very familiar. Only, After Last Season does not have the same central Narcissus figure of a Breen or a Wiseau. Perhaps this is part of the reason the film has not grown the same cult following; it lacks the rubbernecking gravitational pull of a badfilm auteur.
Still, the sets are barren and geographically confusing. The acting is stilted and alien. The framing is occasionally wonky or focused on random things. The audio is poorly captured and balanced, leaving certain lines of dialogue garbled and difficult to decipher. The plot is meandering, the intention of the story not immediately clear. The clunky score drops in at random intervals, only to quickly cut off when it cuts to a new shot. One would be inclined to call it Brechtian, if it wasn’t so thoroughly inept. This is, after all, a film with an entire scene dedicated to two people planning the date, time, and place of a meeting. You know what they say about good screenwriting: “start your scene as early into the action as possible, so early that the action hasn’t even started yet.”
If this movie isn’t driven with brute oblivious force by a narcissistic would-be filmmaker (Breen is a full-time lawyer; Wiseau has disposable income from…somewhere), who is Mark Region, the film’s writer director? Truth is, it is hard to say. He is apparently in real estate (so, like the others, not a full-time filmmaker). Like James Nguyen, director of the Birdemic films and another one of these badfilmmakers, Region has called Hitchcock the major influence on the film. And the production process for After Last Season was roughly 10 years, including three years of script writing, and cost $5 million.
It appears from hearing Region talk about the film that he had passion to make a film but not a clear idea of what he exactly wanted to say through the medium. In an interview with Filmmaker Magazine, he tossed out some things he wanted to explore with the film – the boundaries of scientific knowledge, the lives of medical students, schizophrenia. He certainly nails the lives of medical students aspect, but this exploration is largely the banal day-to-day of student life. You know, the sorts of things that most films will gloss over or would use as a means of exploring something deeper about the human condition.
Here, the human condition is lost to purely denotative and explanatory dialogue. Region has said that he wanted the film to be very logical, and this is a fine idea. A film that explores the banality of life juxtaposed with the progressive narrative of science and reason could be an interesting film, and that could then be used to say something useful about the nature of innovation and human drives – cold logical science meets the limits of human emotion. These elements certainly exist within the film I watched, but they are scattered and unclear thoughts.
Take, for example, the first experiment between the two medical students, Sarah (Peggy McClellan) and Matthew (Jason Kulas). Using microchips to influence electrical signals in the brain, the two undergo a form of linked telepathy. Here, the seemingly oppositional forces of technology and emotion are allowed to butt up against each other. Yes, the visual effects look like Windows 98 screensaver graphics, but this sequence is the first time where the movie is attempting something novel.
Frankly, it is a sequence that stands far and above anything Breen, Wiseau, or Nguyen have ever put to film. The crude design of a man with jagged eyes being stabbed by another figure is silly-looking from a visual effects standpoint, but the way that image unfolds is intriguing, at least relative to everything else the film has presented to that point.
My feeling here is that, while After Last Season is not a good film, Region at least has ideas that could be cinematic (ideas that, thankfully, are not the proto-fascist ramblings of Pass Thru. Again, the Breen and Wiseau comparisons make this a low bar for Region to clear). The cult of fascination that surrounded the film’s trailer release was perhaps overblown, and the reaction was somewhat unfair to Region. The problem here is, I would hazard to guess, a lack of resources and skill to make this film, paired with a disorganized script that doesn’t know how to properly lay out its story. Add to this the muddled themes I just described, which really do not reach any point of clarity, and the film comes off as an inept mess.
Which, to be clear and frank, it is. Perusing interviews with cast members conducted by Jim Donahue with Cashiers du Cinemart back in 2012, the production process comes off as odd as the finished product does.
It is common for a production to film scenes out of sequence to save money, but, according to actor Jason Kulas, individual lines and shots were filmed out of sequence, leaving the actors confused as to what was happening within a given scene. The stilted nature of the film was also partially attributable to a set that was not heated properly. Cold actors would go off to warm themselves while their scene partner shot their lines; as such, actors were not always playing off of each other during filming. Add to this the financial need to conserve footage – the film was shot on 35mm – where actors were almost always provided just one take of a given line, and it is hard to imagine a world where this script would not have come across as stilted.
I initially was going to cover After Last Season for a different series on this site, “Diamonds in the Rough.” With those articles, my aim is to look for the silver linings in films which are divisive, controversial, or outright panned. This would fit nicely in that series, because, as I just outlined, I see silver linings here. After Last Season is bad, but in this case it doesn’t seem worthwhile to continue hitting the punching bag. This is, in the grand scheme of the “so bad it’s good” tradition, a fairly innocuous entry. If anything, its ambition is commendable. Not successfully executed, but commendable.
After Last Season post-dates the Psychotronic Video Guide, but it certainly fits the bill. It seems impossible to find a direct comparison from the Guide, so let’s just say the film is a supernatural serial killer narrative crossed with a Bergman psychodrama (not that I’m comparing the quality of After Last Season to Bergman, mind you). Bergman’s Persona is in the Guide on page 426, and the B-movie The Brain (page 76) involves telepathy and killers (which After Last Season is kinda-sorta about).
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)