Thomas Harbor, a renowned scientist, proves that the afterlife exists – sparking a wave of suicides of those who wish to press the “reset” button and start again in “the better place”. The number skyrockets to four million on the second anniversary when Will, the son of the scientist, heads to see his father. On a ferry, he meets a mysterious passenger named Isla – and soon enough after the return, he rescues her and keeps her in the peculiar institution his dad has created, watching his parent pressing on with his research.
Charlie McDowell comes up with an interesting concept, and something that puzzles a lot of people, be it more on a religious or philosophical level: what happens when we die, and what if the afterlife existed? However, that’s just the beginning. We get to know nobody is sure what’s truly on the other side. It just exists, and we’re certain about it. We watch the story unfolding as the pace keeps fluctuating – with more or less success. The first half is slower, the character introduction takes a little too much time, and the little elements of the puzzle are often signalled as small details or memories. The true investigation starts in the second half of the film, when things start to clarify and the ideas behind the discovery come to light. However, they’re explained rather clumsily, and leave us with more that we’d like to understand.
Jason Segel and Rooney Mara as Will and Isla have little chemistry with each other, that, surprisingly, leads to something in the shape of a relationship prospect. This love story feels a little forced and falls right in the place when the other interesting events start to unfold and ultimately doesn’t even prove that necessary when it comes to the bigger picture. But each of them, individually, do their best as their characters – despite Mara’s character being a bit neglected by the scriptwriters. Jesse Plemons as Toby, Will’s brother, is also interesting and adds a bit of distance or even awkward comedy (in a good sense). Riley Keough, recently in American Honey, also adds to the string of her successful performances with a role of a girl with a complex outlook on the discovery.
The film holds onto its details. There are banners that ask people to stay alive everywhere, and the special centres that identify the dead are opened. The colour palette keeps to washed out blues, browns and greys, ultimately highlighting the hazy atmosphere of the film; you’ll be likely to compare how it’s done visually to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Although the film gives us a promise of an original, untold story, it falls short when it comes to pushing the story ahead briskly and giving the characters enough viable purposes or motives to keep the audience interested. However, the acting keeps the story alive to a certain extent, and the concept is interesting, too, albeit undeveloped.