The After (2023) Short Film Review

The After (2023) Short Film Review

The After (2023)
Director: Misan Harriman
Screenwriters: John Julius Schwabach, Misan Harriman
Starring: David Oyelowo, Jessica Plummer, Amelie Dokubo

Grief and social awareness of violence are the themes underpinning 2024 Oscars Live Action Short nominee The After, the debut film from famed Nigerian-British social activist Misan Harriman.

David Oyelowo, who should have been nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Martin Luther King Jr in Selma in 2015, leads this 19-minute short story, anchoring almost every shot in this intimate presentation of a man who sees his daughter murdered and his wife die soon after, and then must live with the grief that follows.

It’s a film unafraid to show the gruesome immediacy of a stabbing in London, quite obviously holding a contemporary relevance in this regard, but is one almost entirely focused on the processing of the sadness and regret that comes after. Oyelowo is good without being great, some scenes being utterly captivating with others lacking the same nuance or fragility, but within The After, Oyelowo is simply a vessel around which narrative, themes, and purpose revolve. And in this respect, there are lots of things that The After could have done better.

For an Academy Award-nominated short film, and one which has been picked up for distribution by Netflix, The After features several elements that are bordering on amateur, perhaps as a result of this being a directorial debut by its famous photographer filmmaker. Early moments are choppily edited together, causing difficulty in understanding where we are in relation to the action and gutting the film of any rhythm, while later moments are hooked to the kinds of cliches you see in student films – grief captured in a scene in which the protagonist stares teary-eyed at a photograph of his lost loved one whilst sat in his car, for example.

As is the case with every short film worth its salt, there is a purpose to this work. The film attempts to pass comment on London’s knife crime, illuminating those left behind after people die from stabbings, and it presents the stabbing in question without logic or sense just as any stabbing must seem to a victim of such. But this is hardly a deep or fresh undertaking, the story focusing on the lost father figure, the film therefore acting upon predispositions that men are protectors, that men are tough and do not feel, do not cry, do not grieve. Showing a man upset is hardly revolutionary in 2024, and the film hooking itself to a superficial presentation of how apparently it is, does detract from your engagement as a viewer.

The After presents this shallow idea with barely a crumb of visual creativity, either. Most of the angles we witness are from around the height of a human being’s shoulder, the place where the camera naturally sits, expressing a lack of control, knowledge or foresight in the storyboarding stage of creation. The glossy super HD look lacks any nuance too, feeling cold and lacking the meaning that comes with lens choices, grain or blur additions, and so on – one noteworthy sequence shot against the backdrop of a setting sun does not make for a beautiful overall presentation. For a film by a noted photographer, this is hardly as inspiring, as delectable, as purposeful as you might expect, especially for one nominated at the Oscars.

And that’s the point, really. Why is this film nominated at the 96th Academy Awards when so many more creative and meaningful projects haven’t been? Is it because of the star power of its lead? The power in its director’s name? Given the film’s lack of depth, and its generally superficial messaging, it’s difficult to believe that this has been nominated based on its qualities as a standalone piece of art detached from its creators and the reputations of those within it, that’s for sure.

There are fourteen other short films nominated at the Academy Awards in 2024. You’d be better off dedicating your time to any of them than you would be dedicating your time to The After. There is purpose here, and there are some aspects of the lead performance to enjoy, but generally this is a below-par Oscars nominee, a short film lacking the sophistication, creativity, depth of meaning, and overall quality of its fellow nominees.

Score: 10/24

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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