Would assisted suicide be more acceptable if there was proof of life after death? Next Exit handles these heavy themes with a light-handed charm, even if the larger concept is sometimes ignored in favour of character development.
Set in a world where ghosts have been confirmed as real, society struggles to cope with this new finding. While much of the world carries on after this discovery, suicide becomes incredibly prevalent–people are choosing to jump in front of cars and die in the street.
Rose (Katie Parker) and Teddy (Rahul Kohli) have chosen to end their life in a little more regulated way. Conducting an official investigation into the afterlife, Doctor Stevenson (a rarely seen Karen Gillan with a questionable accent) will end their lives for science. She wants to learn more about the afterlife, and our lead pair make the ideal test subjects because they don’t attach much value to their life.
The duo simply has to make it across the county in time for their appointments. After an almost meet-cute forces them to share a rental car, this troubled pair have to put aside their own depression and bitterness to get along. Their cliche strangers-to-enemies-to-friends trajectory is perhaps the least realistic part of this supernatural drama.
Next Exit uses the big themes of religion, the afterlife and assisted suicide and weaves it into an odd-couple road trip. The paranormal and science fiction elements are subtle yet mostly effective, with debut director Mali Elfman instead of focusing on the stories of the living. Those looking for something more spooky may find this character study a tedious waste of an interesting concept.
Rose is thorny and wears her melancholy on her sleeve whereas Teddy is more effusive, very much alive for a man planning his own death. They both have their own reasons for wanting to end their lives, and the topic is always handled with real sensitivity. Despite the high-concept plot, Next Exit never stops feelings grounded in reality. Kohli and Parker are fantastic scene partners, expertly playing off each other thanks to witty writing and micro-mannerisms. Yet, despite the burgeoning relationship, the underlying sadness and trauma never leave them.
Rose is haunted by ghostly figures looming in rearview mirrors and hiding in hotel corners. Some people can see these eery presences in their lives, while others must rely on the research. But these ghosts are never malicious, they are instead used as a fleeting, physical reminder of the character’s emotional baggage.
Along the way, they make a pitstop to visit Rose’s sister Heather, who is played by Kohli’s former iZombie co-star Rose McIver. This is one of the perhaps too many pitstops that don’t move the plot forward enough to warrant the time spent on them. The world-building in the writing is smart enough that we don’t need to be explained the world via chance meetings in roadside diners and dive bars. The directing, which mainly involves being dragged between different detours, is emotionally dull and visually uninteresting. This could be the flaws of a debut director or could be a creative choice in the portrayal of a world where many have given up.
Writer-director Mali Elfman adds layers of nuance to a topic that many other creatives wouldn’t have been able to tackle with such a subtle hand. Perhaps for some, this film will be too subtle and too focused on stripping our lead characters down to their bare bones. Next Exit is less about apparitions and more about confronting the past and admitting your regrets. Despite the performances and genuine emotion, Next Exit fails to really hit the spot and stick with you.
Next Exit was released in theaters on November 4
by Amelia Harvey
Amelia is a freelance writer, frustrated novelist and occasional wrangling of international students. She is especially interested in LBGTQ culture and 1960s and 70s music. She also writes for Frame Rated, The People’s Movies and Unkempt Magazine, amongst others. Her favourite films include Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, Moulin Rouge and Closer. You can find her on Twitter @MissAmeliaNancy and letterboxd @amelianancy