Next Exit presents us with a depressing premise: there is a life after death – and ghosts are real! Not only that, but people can be tracked in their afterlife; some have found a way to communicate with the dead, even get them on video. This isn’t exactly the depressing part — that would be that people are signing up to meet their end. Two such people are Teddy and Rose, two strangers who end up traveling together from dreary New York to sunny San Francisco, on their way to the end their lives.
Dr. Stevensen (Karen Gillian, in a performance that is very reminiscent of Elizabeth Holmes) has proven that “our consciousness continues beyond our physical bodies”. Her company, Life Beyond, brings participants “from this world to the next”, in the name of research. This, of course, has created a stir among the medical and religious communities, and within Congress. But for now, Dr. Stevensen is taking all the volunteers she can get. It would have been interesting for Next Exit to give us more about Dr. Stevensen and those who are fighting to have her stop her research, but Next Exit is more interested on Teddy and Katie’s story and their journey to the afterlife.
Teddy (Rahul Kohli, of Midnight Mass) begins his trip to San Francisco by leaving his dog with his boss, telling him that this is his way to “finally have a shot at something.” It’s a sad world, and people are seeing that they have a better chance at a future by leaving it than by sticking around.
Rose (Katie Parker, of The Haunting of Hill House) is miserable and cantankerous. She’s behaving a little bit more like you would expect a suicidal person to act, while Teddy is somewhat cheerful and excited about this adventure. Naturally, Rose finds this very annoying, and she’s very ready to just get the whole thing over with. She’s drinking pretty heavily, and focused on the destination. She explains that she had already tried to end her life and found she couldn’t do it. She just needs a little help.
While the bleak tone of Next Exit could make for a very depressing movie, with scenes Teddy and Rose discussing their suicide attempts and people killing themselves all over the country, it manages to be pretty funny. Kohli is the funnier of the pair in this unlikely buddy comedy, with plenty of British quippiness.
Like most road trip movies, Rose and Teddy get to know each other and their pasts well as they make their long journey. They also meet an assortment of characters, including a priest, a hitchhiker, and a man at a bar in Texas with a man who’s haunted by his own ghosts. Next Exit begins to feel less like science-fiction and more like a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. There’s a formula to be followed, and writer/director Mali Elfman is sticking to it.
Next Exit is the sort of speculative fiction that could play out like an episode of Black Mirror – the premise of the film begs the comparison. Despite this strange and emotional plot, Next Exit lacks a punch. Had the romantic comedy/road trip formula been left behind, Next Exit could have been a really impressive (albeit bleak and sad) film. There’s a sentimental quality to Next Exit that makes the films premise feel much less depressing – and scary – than it probably should.
Parker and Kohli both deliver excellent and emotional performances as they try to make peace with their pasts, and make good with their wrongs before they move forward. It’s thanks to these performances that we are invested in these characters and their decision to end their lives. There’s a minimization and romanticization of suicidality in Next Exit, which unfortunately suggests that falling in love will be the answer to moving past traumas. While Next Exit is technically a good film in many senses — excellent cinematography, acting, sound — the formulaic writing leaves much to be desired.
Next Exit made its International Premiere at Fantasia Festival July 18, 2022.
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