Brooklyn Horror Film Festival: After Blue (Dirty Paradise) Is Uniquely Weird

Studios have always had a penchant for following particular tropes, mainly regarding horror films, that they thought was the key to success. We saw this with the slashers of the ’70s and ’80s films, the low risk/high reward studio slashers of the late ’90s and early ’00s. Inherently this isn’t a bad thing, as the more casual moviegoer knew there would be consistency. For the die-hard fans, those tropes just got plain old. The past few years have seen an uptick in, what seems like, studios giving more creative control to directors, people taking chances on wild and whacky scripts…then you have Bertrand Mandico. Mandico is an interesting artist and must be discussed before getting into his newest feature.

With filmmaker Katrin Olafsdottir, Mandico established a Dogme 95-like process of filmmaking called the Incoherence Manifesto, but where Dogme is a film movement Olafsdottir and Mandico treat [the] Incoherence Manifesto as an auteur style. The key basis of it is, “[T]o be incoherent means to have faith in cinema, it means to have a romantic approach, unformatted, free, disturbed and dreamlike, cinegenic, an epic narration. Incoherence that´s an absence of cynicism but not irony. It´s embracing the genre without penetrating it.” (Bertrand Mandico) It’s fair to say that After Blue fits that description completely. There is no moment in After Blue, written and directed by Bertrand Mandico, where I believed he lost control of the film and that it was his specific vision from inception to completion.

A dog gets shot at by Roxy (Paula Luna)

After Blue (Dirty Paradise) is an…interesting film that’s making quite the buzz through the festival circuit. I’ve seen this film being talked about all over film Twitter, random Facebook film groups, Letterboxd friends, and the list goes on. Plus the trailer alone is absolutely bonkers and had me hooked from the start. I had no clue what I was getting into, and well, maybe I still don’t.

A chimeric future on After Blue, a planet from another galaxy, a virgin planet where only women can survive in the midst of harmless flora and fauna. The story is of a punitive expedition. (IMDb)

With the previous mentioning of Mandico’s auteur style and exhibit B, it makes sense this film would be stylistically fantastical. From the drop, we are thrown into the inciting incident, which is definitely unique. Usually, it takes a few minutes, at the least, to get there…but Mandico drops it on us quick and fast, telling us it’s his way or the highway. This film may be stylistic to a fault, there’s so much beautiful imagery, wonder, and vibrance strewn throughout each individual shot, it occasionally became too sensory overload-y. This isn’t overly bad, but the film’s 2+ hour runtime becomes daunting after a while. The set design is definitely handled with extreme elegance and tells so much without having to say anything; each new set boasts its own color scheme and feel, making it feel like a brand new world.

Zora (Elina Löwensohn) and Kate Bush (Agata Buzek) tussle with a loaded gun, what could go wrong?

As Zora/Toxic (Elina Löwensohn) and her mother Roxy (Paula Luna) embark on their expedition to find, and kill, Kate Bush (Agata Buzek) they meet a plethora of strange and interesting characters. The acting in this is different from any art-house film I have ever seen. After my viewing, I couldn’t decide if the acting was bad and the script was good, or the acting was good and the script was bad. There’s an abundance of world development told through the new people they meet, while simultaneously very little is given to us. The dialogue only seems to be a vehicle for exposition, while being flat and devoid of emotion; is what I initially thought. After sitting on it for a while, and watching a few key scenes a few more times, I began to realize it is all by design. Mandico’s direction, as stated earlier, is very much on point and his approach was very gutsy. My final thought on the acting is that it is all on purpose, and we are not to focus on it. The world is what we are supposed to focus on—the beasts, the women, the tone, and the style.

After Blue is a weird genre-bending ride that goes from ’70s Sci-Fi to western, to body horror, to many many other things. It is not a bad film, by any means, even if it may come off that I feel that way. This film is original and unpredictable. It’s beautiful and ugly. Mandico has could very well possibly be the next Alejandro Jodorowsky; cultivating his own divisive style and creating an oeuvre to be unmatched by any. Whether you like him, and his films, or not, you cannot say that Mandico is not a forced to be reckoned with.

Zora is haunted by what Kate did to her friends on the beach

You can tell Mandico and Elina Löwensohn have a history working together, their biggest project being a film series called 20+1, with the goal of creating a short film every year. Regarding these films he stated, “[t]he fictions revolve around the notion of aging and desire, eight films were already shot to this day, 6 completed…each and every film is a unique experience, narrative and formal. It´s an anti-series.” (Bertrand Mandico) Even though the acting in After Blue feels stilted, it ties together with the experimentally avant-garde nature of the film. Mandico and Löwensohn work well together and it will definitely be interesting to see what their future projects will hold.

One of my favorite frames from the trailer, and the frame that had a lot of people talking about this film, is the most frustrating one. The face hole shot. If you saw the trailer, then you know. What’s frustrating is that shot isn’t even shown in the film until AFTER the end credits. It’s a small criticism, but for a film that promoted such a grotesque and wild image, you’d think it would have been something put in the film for most people to see; or maybe it’s a commentary on the fact that most people don’t stay through the end credits? Yeah, let’s go with that.

Zora stands there after kissing Kate's lips, with a gigantic hole in her head

After Blue (Dirty Paradisewill not be for everyone, in fact, I think a lot of people will outright dislike it. Even with its slow pacing, weird acting, and general vagueness, it succeeds at being an original and interesting film. Bertrand Mandico knows how to craft eye-catching insanity, and, hopefully, uses this as a stepping stone to be able to create more original and berserk works of art.

The stylized text of After Blue, which perfectly sums up the style of the film

Looking for more on Brooklyn Horror Festival 2021? We’ve got you:

“Brooklyn Horror Film Festival: Home Invasion Shorts (#1) Invades Deep into our Soul”

“Brooklyn Horror Film Festival: When I Consume You Is a Dark and Gritty Masterpiece”

“Brooklyn Horror Film Festival: Ego Is a Masterclass in Elegant Horror Filmmaking”

“Brooklyn Horror Film Festival: Australian Shorts Take Us Down Under”

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Written by Brendan Jesus

I am an award-winning horror screenwriter, rotting away in New Jersey.

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