MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Aftermath’ is emotionally gripping, if a bit messy

Even though its execution isn't perfect, this Elliott Lester film features one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's finest performances to date

| April 8, 2017

I try my best to review as much indie film as I can, but typically that stops at the edge of one of the three Regal art-house theaters in Charlotte. Unfortunately, I simply don’t find the time to sit down and watch as many VOD releases as I used to back before I was appointed to the position I’m in now. You would think sitting down at home to watch and write about a film would be easier than going out, but for some odd reason, I find it increasingly more difficult to do so. If you pay attention to these VOD releases like I do, though, you’ll notice two studios popping up quite often in your queue: Grindstone Entertainment Group & Emmett Furla Oasis Films, two companies which almost always work together on films release under the Lionsgate Premiere banner. Typically, these movies feature decent-to-good casts acting out very poorly written, low-budget action-thrillers for the sake of a paycheck. Naturally, after 10+ Bruce Willis Grindstone thrillers, it becomes easy to write them off, but there was something about the trailer for “Aftermath” that drew me in. Perhaps it’s my liking for Arnold Schwarzenegger, or maybe it was the fact that Darren Aronofsky produced the film, or for the sheer fact that it wasn’t a mindless action-thriller, but I bit my tongue, sat down and gave “Aftermath” a chance.

And I don’t regret doing so, even if it was far from perfect.

Roman (Arnold Scwarzenegger) is a humble construction foreman working in Columbus, Ohio. Upon the arrival of his wife and pregnant daughter at the airport, Roman soon learns of a tragic airliner mid-air collision that killed both his wife and his daughter. Meanwhile, the film shifts focus to Jacob (Scoot McNairy), an air traffic controller who ends up in a whirlwind when his negligent mistake caused the collision to occur. As the film goes on, detailing both of their grieving processes, the lives of Roman and Jacob intertwine in ways that neither of them could’ve ever imagined.

While this is far from Schwarzenegger’s most iconic role, from a dramatic standpoint, it’s hands down his most impressive performance to date. When one thinks of Scwarzenegger, one doesn’t expect much in the way of dramatic heft or emotional subtlety, but in the past few years, Schwarzenegger has chosen more films that showcase this newfound talent of acting of his that really pays off in the final product. Even when his lines are a little clunky or the situation might be a little ridiculous, Schwarzenegger puts forth a sense of emotional sensitivity that we’ve never seen before from the actor, a side to him that’s as welcome as it is surprising. I want more of this Scwarzenegger and I want it now.

On the flipside,¬†McNairy also does a solid job with his character of Jacob, which finds another side to the story that makes “Aftermath” feel a bit more complete than it would’ve if the film had solely focused on Roman. McNairy has great versatility as an actor, being able to play normal, almost mousy characters like here, to a pretentious frat bro like in “Gone Girl,” to a terrifying drug lord in “Sleepless” (which I ended up seeing and enjoying, though a formal review was never written). My only real complaint is the off times when McNairy is shown crying, which often came across a little too comically over-the-top for a film such as this, but for a Grindstone VOD release, I know there is always much, much worse being offered elsewhere.

“Aftermath” isn’t a particularly attractive film, but not from any fault of the filmmaker. Set in Columbus, “Aftermath” takes the look of standard suburban America, blandness and all. Director Elliott Lester plays “Aftermath” more intimately than one might expect from a low-budget revenge thriller, rarely featuring any filmmaking of any flash or panache, the direction of the film in all regards plays it very close to the chest, letting its characterizations and plot shine over the aesthetics of the film, which I was surprisingly okay with in a film like this. That being said, its low-budget could be clocked at many points, feeling a bit cheaper than something like this should be, but that’s somewhat forgivable, even if it could’ve been avoided a bit more. “Aftermath” could’ve been more stylish, but it also could’ve been straight-up ugly as well.

Going with that, “Aftermath” is a much slower film than one might expect from standard genre conventions. The film doesn’t follow Roman on a rampage avenging his family’s death, nor is Jacob some sadistic air traffic controller hell-bent on destroying as many planes as he can, but rather, the film follows two normal people placed in such horrible situations that they can’t help but play off of each other’s pain. This is the type of revenge thriller that hits you in your heart, rather than in your gut. It’s not visceral, or violent, or even particularly suspenseful, but rather engaging and unpredictable

If there’s one part of “Aftermath” that didn’t work, it would be the polish on its screenplay. Being a film from two studios with very low standards, a rewrite of much of the dialogue, as well as its third act is very much so in order. The dialogue of the film is often a bit too clunky and rehearsed to come across as natural at many points in the film, which falls on no fault of the actors. It doesn’t quite flow as well as it should at many key moments, though it isn’t so bad that it ruins the film. Meanwhile, the third act of the film, while it is effective, does leave the audience feeling a bit cold and distant from what we were built up to in the first two acts. I have a strange feeling this will end up growing on me over time, if not only because of its reflection of how something like this might happen in reality, but there are ways to leave audiences feeling cold, without feeling jipped (ex. every David Fincher film ever, someone who could’ve done a bang-up job on this film).

I wish “Aftermath” had been given a chance by a bigger studio to receive a bigger budget and more discretion on its screenplay, because had that been done, I feel like “Aftermath” would’ve been a very effective springtime thriller to hit theaters. Alas, we have what we have on VOD and for what it’s worth, “Aftermath” might just be one of the better Grindstone/EFO films to surface to date (I can’t say I completely count “Maggie” and “Z for Zachariah,” if only for their wider theatrical releases from Roadside Attractions, not Lionsgate Premiere), which might not speak wonders on the two production companies on their own, but “Aftermath” is an engaging, if imperfect film that features one of Schwarzenegger’s finest performances to date. And as someone who loves Schwarzenegger, “Aftermath” is a bargain I am more than willing to make.

3/5

Photo courtesy of Lionsgate

Directed by: Elliott Lester
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Scoot McNairy, Maggie Grace, Judah Nelson, Glenn Morshower, Hannah Ware, Mo McRae, with Martin Donovan.
Runtime: 94 minutes
Rating: R for a scene of violence.
Now playing in select theaters and on video-on-demand.

Lionsgate Premiere, Grindstone Entertainment Group and Emmett Furla Oasis Films present, an Emmett Furla Oasis Films production, a Protozoa Pictures production, an Oak Productions, Inc. production, a Hat and Coat Productions Limited production, in association with The Fyzz Facility, a film by Elliott Lester, “Aftermath”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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