Beware the DVD case that bears a rather meaningless banner like "In the Thrilling Vein of Insomnia and One Hour Photo." Attributed to nobody in particular, this comparison comes from the marketing folks at Miramax, and what it really means is this: "A Movie We Desperately Wish Was More Like Insomnia and One Hour Photo."
Slight, uninteresting and boring beyond belief, Robert Manganelli's After Image has been sitting on a Miramax shelf for about three years, and was recently unleashed on to the video shelves simply because of contractual obligations. (The Disney / Miramax divorce settlement demands that the vault be emptied.) The main question is not "why wouldn't they release the movie?" but "why the hell did they even buy the thing in the first place?" It's not like the world's clamoring for yet another hopelessly arid serial killer procedural. Let alone one that stars John "Don't call me Cougar" Mellencamp.
Mr. Mellencamp stars as a crime scene photographer called Joe who's seen one dead kid too many. He quits his job (at least I think he does) and returns home to live with his rascally old aunt and semi-retarded brother. But for some reason entirely unclear, a serial killer has taken a strange interest in our hero, so he follows him back to the sleepy little burg ... and kills a few more girls.
Keep in mind that what I've just described takes about 50 minutes to unfold.
Much of After Image deals with Joe's clumsy new romance with his aunt's assistant, a woman who is both clairvoyant and deaf. Laura catches glimpses of the killer's activities prior to their occurrence, none of which really matters in the grand scheme of what I'll charitably refer to as "the plot," since Joe is left entirely in the dark until the killer finally reveals himself with very little fanfare.
Director Robert Manganelli clearly has some skills behind the camera. Considering he has a bunch of degrees in photography, the fact that his footage looks pretty slick should come as no surprise. But that's no excuse for a movie this endlessly unengaging, dry, and dishwater dull. Huge gaping sections of After Image meander on by as characters walk from place to place, mosey down a road, stare meaningfully out of windows... You know the drill.
But the screenplay's where the main and most egregious problems lie. Frankly, there's nothing here that you haven't seen before in hundreds of movies and thousands of TV shows. Mellencamp, looking for all the world like a poor man's Sean Penn, sleepwalks through the film while brandishing maybe three emotions; lead actress (and director's wife) "Terrylene" gives a performance that's easily Mellencamp's equal. One-time Oscar Winner, now B-movie-legend Louise Fletcher adds just enough color to keep the early sections from lulling you to sleep -- but if you're still awake and interested by the time After Image's end credits show up, you just might be a raging insomniac.
Video: The film is presented in a Widescreen (1.85:1) anamorphic aspect ratio, but that doesn't prevent the "low-budget grainies" from pervading the picture quality. All in all, not a terrible transfer, but several of the night-time sequences look pretty darn sketchy.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, which enables the incessantly and maddeningly tinkly musical score to pipe through your speakers unmolested.
Extras: There's a 20-minute Making of After Image featurette, which spends a lot of time focusing on how Manganelli's crew would beg, borrow, scramble, and steal to get this movie made. So clearly this project was a real labor of love for those involved parties -- which makes me wish I'd liked the movie, even a little. There's some on-set stuff and festival preparation material, but no information on why After Image was left sitting in a vault for approximately 40 months.
A second featurette, entitled Portraying Death: The Art of Special Effects Make Up, runs about 8 minutes and features some sequence breakdowns from FX supervisor Michael Del Rossa. After Image deals with dead bodies in more of a forensic fashion, and I must admit that the make up effects (and Manganelli's depictions thereof) are pretty darn effective.
Rounding out the extras are some text-based production notes from the director.
There's a huge difference between being a great photographer and being an effective storyteller. I suspect Mr. Manganelli could have a lot of success in the directing business ... if he's careful to stay away from the screenwriting business. Sorry to say that I found After Image the cinematic equivalent of 3 sleeping pills and a bottle of warm milk.