Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Next Exit: Life-After-Death Déjà vu

In the future, student loan forgiveness, rent freezes, and mortgage forbearance will not be enough for some people. They figure they might as well commit suicide and start fresh, since a scientist has supposedly proved the existence of the afterlife. She just encourages potential suicides to become her test subjects, so her clinic can safely control and track their crossing-over. Two program participants reluctantly share a final road trip to get there in director-screenwriter Mali Elfman’s Next Exit, which releases in theaters and on-demand this Friday.

Teddy is a likable bloke, who has been dealt a tough hand in life, particularly when it comes to family. Rose is bitter and resentful, mostly at herself, because she constantly punishes her own screw-ups by screwing up more. Teddy is the one you would prefer to share a long road trip with. (Please, go ahead and turn this car around, right now!) However, they need each other to get to Dr. Stevenson’s lab, because he has the valid credit card and she has the valid driver’s license.

Of course, they squabble like cats and dogs at first. However, they start to have compassion for each other as they open up a little and start listening. Their chance encounter with good Father Jack really helps to start this process. Yet, they remain committed to ending it all, despite Rose’s periodic visions that suggest this might be a bad idea—at least that sure seems to be the implication for those of us watching.

In a way,
No Exit really does prove the existence of life-after-death, because it resurrects the premise of Charlie McDowell’s under-heralded The Discovery, which was all about science verifying human consciousness transitions to a different plane of existence after death—and the wave of suicides that news inspires. However, McDowell’s vastly superior film had a lot more wit, originality, and especially more energy.

The Discovery
is all about eventually choosing life, even when it feels unbearable. Supposedly, Next Exit is too, but listening to these two mopey leads whine and bicker could have hundreds of viewers killing themselves to end the pain. Elfman’s little horror interludes are also rather baffling, especially since they are never really explained. They just seem to be unnecessary foreshadowing. Still, you have to admire Magnet/Magnolia Pictures for releasing the film without a suicide prevention PSA preface. Thank you for assuming we’re adults, who can handle the subject matter.

Rahul Kohli gives an almost redemptively complex and humane performance as Teddy. We can totally believe him and every step of his character-development arc. Katie Parker is only too convincingly abrasive and toxic, as Rose. Frankly, the film needed more of the humanity supplied by Tongayi Chirsa as Father Jack. It is a wonderfully sad and forgiving performance. To give Elfman credit, it represents an incredibly rare example of a Catholic priest portrayed on-screen in a wholly sympathetic manner.

If the premise of
Next Exit sounds intriguing, check out The Discovery on Netflix instead. McDowell’s film has a clearer vision of what the titular discovery means. (It also co-stars Robert Redford, whom you might have heard of before.) Whereas the spiritual, metaphysical, and scientific implications of Next Exit remain murky at best. Not recommended, despite some fine performances, Next Exit releases this Friday (11/4) in theaters and on VOD.