Film Torments: After Last Season (2009)

THIS TIME on Torments, Dan looks into the void of avant-garde a clue.

When I was 13 or 14, some friends and I decided we were going to make a movie. We had no education, no budget and no script. We didn’t care: We were going to make our daft movie about dark wizards and alternate realities and lord knows what else. We borrowed a Samsung camcorder from someone’s mum, went out to the M.O.D. firing range, set up some torches and started filming. We filmed in the woods. We filmed by the streams. We filmed an oddly homoerotic torture sequence. In total, we filmed about five or six minutes of usable footage that has, mercifully, been lost to time.

I’m still proud of the work we did, as terrible and clueless as it undoubtedly was. We had a hazy, incomprehensible vision that we set out to capture on film with a handheld camera and hearts full of hope. Inspiration alone was enough to galvanise a group of four young teens to go out there, have a good time and make a silly little film with absolutely no understanding of the exorbitant technical specifications involved. We failed, of course, but the important thing is that we tried. For a handful of days, with grey clouds overhead; at dusk; in darkness, we tried.

Because we tried, I’m convinced we made a better movie than After Last Season.

I hesitate to even call After Last Season a motion picture. It is anomalous, an incomprehensible slog through a pseudo-scientific miasma of galactic proportions. It shares more in common with modern art installations than a motion picture. Yes, After Last Season is a set of moving images displayed in sequence, as per the technical definition, but nothing about it resembles a film in the conventional sense. Neither is it explicitly experimental, like the nouvelle vague or the works of Maya Deren, because there is a difference between abstract obfuscation and brazen incompetence. Guess which applies to After Last Season.

You guessed it.

Outsider art of this nature is hardly unheard of. A quick browse through Amazon Prime’s digital offerings will dredge up endless hordes of embarrassing schlock like Space Boobs in Space, but the difference here is that Space Boobs in Space knows exactly what it is. It is everything you would expect from a film called Space Boobs in Space. Comparatively, I still don’t know what the thesis or the premise of After Last Season is. Its very title is wilfully obscure, prompting questions that will never be answered within the film.

Even before its 2009 release, the internet was baffled by its trailer appearing on various websites, including Apple’s own trailer website. The lingering shots of walls, blinking actors and vapid dialogue befuddled its audience to the point that it, somehow, prompted speculation that the film was an elaborate hoax perpetuated by Spike Jonze as marketing for Where the Wild Things Are. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a hoax. After Last Season is real, and so is Mark Region, its writer/director/cinematographer/insane person.

Unlike the classically terrible auteurs like Ed Wood, Tommy Wiseau or Neil Breen, Region is something of an unknown quantity. In one interview, he notes the influence of Alfred Hitchcock. In another, more in-depth discussion, he explains the impetus behind why many of the scenes involved actors not being in the same room despite sharing scenes: “…To reduce the amount of coverage.” Region’s insights into his own work are as banal and insufficient as the film itself, but one particular figure stands out: $5 million. That’s the budget. Bear that in mind. Look at these images and bear that in mind. $5 million.

$5 million.

It’s normally a faux pas in film criticism to describe a scene verbatim, but After Last Season is so far beyond the pale of traditional film-making that it demands a more meticulous examination. The opening, then, sets the tone for what is to come: Two people stand in an over-exposed room, their shadows back-dropped against the walls, and talk about absolutely nothing. In this case, they’re standing in a “Doctor’s Office”. We know this because there are four identical X-rays stapled to the wall. There is an “MRI scanner” in the corner. It is made out of cardboard boxes with paper draped over them, held together by visible gaffer tape. The camera randomly cuts to nondescript measures of wall and ceiling fans. “My father came here to have an MRI scan done on his hips,” a man says. “He thought it was loud.” The camera cuts to another character on the phone. A door opens.

This, and slight variations upon it, is how the film unfolds for 90% of its runtime. There are no establishing shots. There are no introductions. There are no characters. There is music, yes, but it’s akin to a six year-old child indiscriminately stabbing keys on a Casio keyboard. I have never seen a film so flagrantly lacking in the basic fundamentals of film grammar as this; nor have I seen a film so staggeringly incompetent. Like the non-sequitur editing, where the camera cuts to a different take of the same scene mid-sentence; or the absence of production values, where an abandoned warehouse, complete with exposed piping and basement lighting, doubles for a… house? A gulag? We don’t know. Nothing is written.

After Last Season is an enigma because it has no personality stamped on it. It seems to exclusively inhabit a void in which only inertia may thrive. Momentum has no place, and neither does spatial understanding. Achingly primitive animations try to tell us something, like a cave painting from the distant past, but we can only marvel at their meaning in mathematical terms. Voxel birds caw; Casio keys blindly pound; humanoid shapes stiffly lurch.

FIVE. MILLION. DOLLARS.

The audience wanders into this coiled negation without context, subtext or, even text to find their bearings. Mark Region, the faceless man – the auteur sans vision – invited you here. There’s no Wiseauvian bewilderment; no Woodian hysteria; no Breenish egotism. There is only the void. It does not welcome. It does not reject. It consumes. It expunges. It can be said to exist, but not quite. It is a film, and it isn’t.

In many ways, After Last Season defies critical analysis. It is so speechlessly poor that I’ve run out of negative superlatives to lavish upon it. Perseverance in the face of adversity is something to be admired – as is common with outsider art in general – but not when it ultimately produces something as shambolic, opaque and simply fucking wretched as this. It is a lifeless trudge through the unbearable banality of being. It is, to put it bluntly, $5 million flushed down a toilet.

I once called The Beast of Yucca Flats the worst movie I have ever seen. I take it back.

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