The post-apocalyptic and dystopian future subgenre has an interesting reputation for how it can make the environment a character.
In some films like Children of Men or Mad Max: Fury Road, the genre is used as a form of social commentary, addressing issues such as environmentalism and income inequality. For films like 2019 Fall of New York or 1990 Bronx Warriors, the genre was used to make the most of cheap locations and capitalize on the popularity of Road Warrior. After We Leave uses the dystopian future as a form of emotional agency. Rather than get bogged down in elaborate future technology or world-building, After We Leave is a focused odyssey of one man finding his wife, and mending past wrongs.
The film focuses on the journey of Jack (Brian Silverman), as he tries to find his estranged wife so that they can leave Earth for an off-world colony. On his journey, he comes across old friends and acquaintances and is forced to confront the wrongs he’s committed and the people he’s hurt. What makes the story so compelling is its emotional focus. The film doesn’t talk about the colony or why the Earth humanity needs to leave Earth. Instead, it’s entirely focused on Jack’s journey and the turmoil he experiences coming face-to-face with his regret and mistakes. It’s a very human film, and that’s what makes it so strong.
The story is presented subtly, without getting too deep into exposition. As such, it’s incredibly easy to identify with Jack on an emotional level. Thanks to Silverman’s performance, Jack’s frustration and desperation are immediately relatable. He’s a character you find yourself extremely critical of, but still wind up rooting for thanks to his own self-awareness and humility. At times though, the dialogue can be rocky when it’s trying to be vague. While I admire the director’s attempt to keep an air of mystery and not overload on exposition, allowing for some more descriptive dialogue could make certain moments sound more natural. This issue isn’t frequent, but noticeably distracting when it happens.
This particular dystopian future is minimalistic. It doesn’t bog down in the typical Road Warrior or Blade Runner aesthetic that most dystopian future movies fall victim to. The futuristic technology that does exist in the film is gritty and practical as if it could be invented within the next couple of years. At the same time, the design of the technology is original. Unlike Black Mirror and other near-future shows where the technology is often modeled after Apple, this tech looks like the third-party products not under the Apple brand. This tech gives the film a unique identity, and it’s certainly welcome.
After We Leave is an excellently emotional performance-driven film that uses its apocalyptic setting to demonstrate the urgency of mending past wrongs, and the desire to seek inner peace. The urgency in this film feels real and charged, as you’re left feeling every drip of emotion from Jack; his self-loathing, his drive, his desire for forgiveness and to make things right. Those looking for a minimalistic sci-fi film focused more on character than effects will definitely enjoy this film, as you’ll be left thinking about how you’d want to spend your last days on Earth.