(director/writer: Mali Elfman; cinematographer: Azuli Anderson; editor: Brett W. Bachman; music: Ariel Marx; cast:  Gavin Powers (Reo), Joe Powers (Niko), Katie Parker (Rose), Karen Gillan (Dr. Stevensen), Rahul Kholi (Teddy), Diva Zappa (Karma), Tongayi Chirisa (Father Jack), Rose McIver (Heather), Ty Molbak (Chad), Michael May (Congressman Lucas); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Derek Bishe/Narineh Hacopian; Magnet Releasing/Magnolia; 2022)

“The riveting performances by Parker and Kohli capture fully what the film is all about, and in the end save it from its misery.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

 A futuristic sci-fi sort of horror pic, a dark rom-com, and a predictable road trip movie, directed and written in formulaic terms by Mali Elfman (daughter of Danny), in her debut feature film.

When a video promoting self-assisted suicide shows a ghost in it, this supposedly proves there’s an afterlife and we can contact the dead in the other world. Volunteers are requested by the Life Beyond society for a scientific research study that tracks human life into the death cycle. This experiment attracts total strangers Rose (Katie Parker) and the Brit ex pat Teddy (Rahul Kohli) to travel together in a rented Grand Jeep Cherokee from the east coast (NYC) to the west (San Francisco) to take part in the study. Both volunteers are depressed and have a strong death-wish.

This afterlife program is run in her S.F. lab by the controversial Dr Stevensen (Karen Gillan), channeling her Elizabeth Holmes-vibe, who babbles on about the importance of her work.

On the long trip the two unhappy volunteers begin to understand themselves and each other better, as they try to figure out the meaning of life by talking about their fears and desires. They keep busy by engaging in some acerbic banter, soul searching, talking with a true believer Catholic priest (Tongayi Chirisa), picking up a hippy hitchhiker, and consulting their estranged family members.

The long cross-country ride stirs up things like existential, mundane and family issues. The bitchy, self-pitying Rose’s hostile attitude and Teddy’s cravings for junk food (translated as a craving to be happy, despite all his inner pain), are both balanced out as bad things to have. Despite its ambitious premise the filmmaker can only come up with a hodgepodge of contrivances and some banal reasons for wanting to live. It’s merely a tale filled with conventional melodramatics.

The first half of this dour film is a chore to get through, but by the time we get to the climax, we wonder if two healthy people will actually go through with their suicide plans. The film gets some more juice as it questions mental health issues and ends in a predictable saccharine way (like most road movies are programmed to do). And, like most road films the journey is more interesting than the end point. The riveting performances by Parker and Kohli capture fully what the film is all about, and in the end save it from its misery.

It played at the Tribeca Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 12/28/2022  GRADE: B-