Review by Leslie Byron Pitt/@Afrofilmviewer
Magnus von Horn’s frosty debut feature; The Here After, has the lead; John (Ulrik Munther), looking to start anew after serving two years in prison for a violent crime. What occurred is revealed slowly in muted detail. We know enough to understand what happened, but the film never lingers fully on the crime. Indeed the film is more concerned on the aftermath and how a small community looks upon one of their own.
The wide-eyed John is no longer part of the community, despite his relatively innocent appearance. His unsettled and stand-offish demeanor could easily be misinterpreted as teenage angst, but it’s the solemn gazes given towards him around the town say this is far more than growing pains. The kid’s not right.
As Von Horn’s film begins to turn the screw as we soon realise that John clearly wishes to do right by the society he has hurt, yet the society is not that keen on forgiving John for his crimes. Munther is brilliant as John, managing to show with seemingly little or minor expression, not only lost innocence but burning intensity and defiance. It’s through John’s quiet yet focused poise that The Here After tells its story. John doesn’t wish to be alone, and strives for companionship and to rebuild relationships, but his history does little else but to isolate him. Despite his sentence and his wish to leave his past, John’s reluctance to fight against those who hound him opens up acute questions about rehabilitation and punishment. John’s serving of his penalty means nothing to those who are left with the memories and emotions of the tragedy.
Every aspect of Von Horn’s feature is tightly controlled. From the direction of the simmering performances to the sparse cinematography. Visually, The Here After makes its characters feel small against the sterile environments. Often the film traps them between door frames or forces them down submissively to the bottom half of the screen. The blocking edges characters apart from each other, isolating them like archipelagos. It’s not just John. Every character struggles to connect due to past events.
The moral quandary which is left by destructive, angry young men has been noted in films such as What Richard Did (2012) and We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011) which held stronger uses of form. The troubled angst of the close-knit community is more emotionally wrought in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt (2012). But The Here After holding its own with a quiet strength, particularly in its difficult climax, which suggests that the tragic events that tear at us, are not only hard to forget, but maybe even impossible to forgive.
The Here After is released on DVD 4th July