A science-fiction action drama, After We Leave follows Jack (Brian Silverman) as he attempts to find the wife whom he abandoned years before. He must find her because their joint off-world visa is about to expire, and without her he will lose his chance to escape Earth’s many problems. He ends up agreeing to work for the shifty criminal Eric (Clay Wilcox) so he can find her. It sounds simple, but Aleem Hossain’s film manages to fit considerable detail into a short running time, though perhaps at the expense of making certain things clear.
Everyday life in very near-future Los Angeles is captured in great detail. Immigration off-world is common and Earth is succumbing to more pressures every day. Discussions about visas, immigration and privilege make it feel as though Hossain’s film could even be set today. The fantastical promises of space and the cosmos are only ever hinted at, the action instead placed firmly in the humdrum of Earthly existence. Some short but carefully constructed conversations between characters allude to how those blights on our own existence, such as systematic inequality, crime and the nightmares of administration, firmly remain in this future. This believability and realism work well for a film that cares so much about the fates of its characters.
On its mission to provoke and intrigue viewers however, After We Leave does commit some fairly fundamental errors. Jack is the main protagonist which the audience attaches itself to, yet much of his backstory is left unclear. Why did he abandon his wife? What does he owe Eric exactly? Why does almost everyone he meet treat him with hostility and contempt? Particularly in the first half there is a lot of distracting uncertainty that prevents you from becoming invested in Jack’s story. You spend more time questioning his decisions than empathising with his situation. The relationships between the characters are interesting, but Hossain’s script keeps its cards too close to its chest.
Between conversations where Jack asks where his wife is (he asks so much it becomes a bit grinding), After We Leave flashes into action. Once or twice there is real suspense, but the quality is very unpredictable. Jack becomes involved in a heist, but what exactly they are stealing or why is unclear, another instance of details being skipped over. Making things worse is a foot chase scene around an hour in that is so lacking in suspense it is almost comical. All the shaky camerawork and cuts in the world don’t make it feel anywhere near as gripping as it should. The finale does have more to offer, with an intense brawl followed by a rousing and stylish final sequence. After We Leave does manage to elicit reactions, but not often enough, and this inconsistency is glaring.
Hossain’s film is made for the festival scene, and will likely do well there. It is an intriguing story with plenty of discussion points and a significance lingering in the subtext. With so many oversights however, it is a difficult one to get real enjoyment from. It finds rich source material in the everyday things that most science-fiction films tend to miss (you’d never see Kylo Ren fill out a form), but this uniqueness only just emerges above the lack of clarity that plagues the story.