I was really excited to watch After She Died. The trailer promised a supernatural mystery that would be right up my alley, so I knew I had to request a screener right away. Not only did this movie look really creepy, but the premise also spoke to me on a very personal level. That’s a pretty rare combination, so I was fully expecting this to be one of my favorite films of the year. But unfortunately, after finally getting the chance to check it out, I’m sad to say that this movie left me sorely disappointed.
After She Died was written, directed, and produced by Jack Dignan, and it stars Liliana de la Rosa, Vanessa Madrid, Paul Talbot, and Adam Golledge. It’s about a teenage girl named Jen whose mother Isabel dies unexpectedly, and soon afterward, her father begins to date a woman named Florence who looks exactly like his dead wife. At first, Jen simply doesn’t know what to make of this strange situation, but it’s clear that something isn’t quite right here. Florence has a “so nice she’s creepy” vibe to her, so whatever is happening, it can’t be good.
For about the first 10 or 15 minutes, I was totally on board with After She Died. The opening scene features a really touching conversation between Jen and her mother, and the love between them is almost palpable. It made me instantly buy into these characters and their relationship, so it did a great job of setting up the pain Jen would feel later on.
On top of that, since Isabel and Jen are both Hispanic, they speak Spanish throughout much of this scene, and as someone who grew up in a bilingual family, I really appreciated that. A lot of English-language movies and TV shows overly Anglicize their bilingual families, and I find that super irritating. It simply doesn’t capture what it’s really like to live in a family that speaks more than one language, so the opening scene of After She Died is a welcome change of pace. It made me love these characters even more, so I was sure I would end up loving the film.
Then, after Isabel dies, After She Died does a really good job of showing us the pain that Jen and her father experience at their loss. Granted, we only see a couple of brief scenes of them grieving, but it was more than enough for me. Maybe it’s because I’ve lost a parent myself, but I totally felt their anguish. In particular, there’s a scene where they’re visiting Isabel’s grave, and it reminded me of the times when my mother and I visit my father’s grave. It just feels entirely real, so once again, I thought for sure that this would end up being one of my favorite horror movies of the year.
But when Jen’s father introduces her to his new girlfriend Florence, everything changes. The film tries to make you feel Jen’s confusion at seeing her mother’s face again, but it didn’t work for me at all. It just felt like a bunch of weird cinematographic choices, and it actually took me out of the movie quite a bit.
It’s great when a film can use those kinds of techniques to draw you into its story, but when they don’t work, it just kills the illusion and reminds you that you’re watching a movie rather than experiencing something real. It’s the exact opposite of what a film is supposed to do, but unfortunately, that’s the effect this scene had on me.
And from there, After She Died just goes further and further downhill. It tries to build up the mystery of what the hell is going on here, but for some reason, it didn’t work for me at all. I can’t quite put my finger on everything that’s wrong with it, but this mystery just felt empty and uninteresting. I simply couldn’t care about it, so I quickly found myself checking my watch incessantly in hopes that the movie would be over soon.
That being said, there is one concrete weakness here that I can pinpoint: the performances. They’re all over the place, with some being really good, others being really bad, and others being somewhere in between. For example, Vanessa Madrid, the actress who plays Isabel and Florence, is excellent. Like I said before, when Isabel is talking to Jen in that opening scene, you can feel the love between them, and while Madrid’s performance in the rest of the film is very different, it’s just as good. Most notably, she absolutely nails Florence’s “so nice she’s creepy” vibe, so whenever she was on screen, I really enjoyed watching her act.
On the flip side, Pal Talbot, the actor who plays Jen’s father, is pretty flat, and Liliana de la Rosa is very up and down as Jen. Because of these mediocre-at-best performances, my love for the characters withered very quickly, and that’s a big reason why the mystery in After She Died didn’t work for me. I simply lost interest in these people and their stories, so I didn’t care what was happening to them.
To be fair, there is some good spooky imagery in this movie, and there are even a few horror scenes that I quite enjoyed. But on the whole, that one strength isn’t nearly enough to outweigh all the film’s weaknesses. While After She Died starts out really promising, the poor performances and the uninspiring mystery drag it down way too much, so I’m sad to say that I wouldn’t recommend it.
After She Died will hit VOD on September 30.