★★ / ★★★★
There is a secret in “After,” written by Sabrina Gennarino and directed by Pieter Gaspersz, that is not at all worth the trouble keeping, thus preventing the picture from reaching its true potential as a melodrama. To gain momentum, it should have been revealed some time in the middle or it ought to not have been a secret to us at all. Instead, the final few scenes come off trying too hard to surprise rather than being quiet and genuinely absorbing.
The Valentino family is a dysfunctional bunch and the material makes the case that part of the reason why they are severely unhappy is because they are unable to deal with the past. Mitch (John Doman), the patriarch, is highly protective of his fragile wife, Nora (Kathleen Quinlan), and so he goes to great lengths to distract her from reality. In a telling scene, Nora loses it after she accidentally tramples over a flower while gardening.
Their grown children—Chris (Pablo Schreiber), Max (Sabrina Gennarino), and Nick (Adam Scarimbolo)—follow suit in grooming the mirage because they, in a way, are afraid of their father and constantly, one way or another, needing his approval. Perhaps most interesting is Max who, when asked by her boyfriend (Darrin Dewitt Henson) to get married, claims she needs time to think about it not because she does not want to accept but because having him as a family member means a higher risk of exposing the secret.
The film is shot without glitz or glamour which works to its advantage. Although the script tends to lean on over exaggeration to get its point across, the problems between Mitch and his children, especially the sons, feel real at times. I was interested in what would happen next even though the situations are terrains are commonly traversed.
Casting unfamiliar faces works, too. Some of them are quite green which I liked because I found it difficult to read how they would allow their characters to react given an expected situation. If household names were cast, it might have been a frustrating experience because it might have been easier to predict the performers’ choices. Here, although some of the acting is wooden, a level of mystery remains.
“After” is likely to not impress many, but a skeletal track is laid out here to make an effective drama. The pieces do not quite fit as neatly as they should because there is a lack of complex characterization and transitions, especially the father (whom I saw as the central figure instead of the mother) in terms of how we view him. Toward the end, we get a feel for his softer side but it is almost out of the blue.