‘We Go On’, ‘The Discovery’ and the afterlife

APRIL 15 ― It’s often said by the extra thoughtful among us that one of the more melancholic things about cinema is that it is actually a sort of record of the process of ageing (and therefore dying) of the people in front of it.

Yes, in one way cinema preserves the memory of an actor in a tangible and physical form, but in another way it’s also a touching reminder of an actor’s forward march towards old age and eventually shuffling off this mortal coil.

Maybe because it’s subconsciously aware of such things or maybe not, there’s been a rich and long tradition of films ruminating on and obsessing about the concept of the afterlife, on what happens after we die and where we go to next, even from the silent era.

From more solemn classics like The Phantom Carriage and The Seventh Seal to more playful fantasies like Here Comes Mr. Jordan, A Matter Of Life And Death and Heaven Can Wait to even modern day examples like the underrated What Dreams May Come, the Japanese film After Life and of course horror flicks like the Hellraiser films and Jigoku, there are plenty of films out there to get you thinking about the afterlife, whatever your religious persuasions may be.

I’ve always found it funny that the films I randomly choose to watch (often without even checking out the trailer or reading a synopsis or logline) can sometimes come in pairs or form a thematic bunch and pleasantly surprise me on how much they seem to be connected to each other, despite me just randomly picking them as something to watch on that particular week or day.

And so I found myself thinking a wee bit extra about the afterlife this week after I watched two very different films: the low budget horror flick We Go On and the lo-fi sci-fi US indie The Discovery.

The Discovery, in particular, goes off on some really interesting tangents with its ideas and theories about the afterlife. The second film from director Charlie McDowell of The One I Love fame, who again co-wrote the film with Justin Lader, is again mostly a two-hander between its two lead actors Jason Segel and Rooney Mara, but this time McDowell’s got a bigger canvas to play with as he even manages to get bigger and more familiar names and faces like Robert Redford, Riley Keogh, Ron Canada and Jesse Plemons as supporting actors.

It’s a story set two years after the existence of the afterlife was scientifically verified by Robert Redford’s character, which set off a wave of suicides as people literally can’t wait to shuffle off this mortal coil and just move on to the next life, which led the scientist to lead a reclusive life alongside a group of people he manages to save from committing suicide. Where it gets more interesting is when his next step is to create a machine that can record what the afterlife looks like.

Segel and Mara play two lovers living in the same group compound, and their love story plays like background music to all this intrigue surrounding the afterlife, especially when the machine actually works, leading them to investigate and connect the dots.

I shall not spoil the movie for you, so I’ll just say that the movie plays like all good lo-fi sci-fi movies do, which is to say that it’s a bit like a good mumblecore movie but with great, big and ambitious scientific ideas to keep your mind racing.

We Go On, on the other hand, plays like a combination of detective movies, mumblecore and chilling horror. Written and directed by Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton, who first made their names with Yellowbrickroad, We Go On is further proof that this film-making duo is really one to watch out for as they inventively work around the limitations of an obviously low budget to deliver a thoughtful and even emotional horror film that still manages to send a few chills down your spine.

Telling the story of a man who’s paralysed by a crippling fear of death, which means that he’s the type of guy who doesn’t drive and only takes buses to work because it’s statistically safer to do so, he’s finally had enough of his fears that he takes out an advertisement in a newspaper and offers a US$30,000 (RM132,375) reward to anyone who can conclusively prove that there is life after death.

They can show him a ghost, a spirit, anything really, as long as it proves that there’s more to this life than the one we’re living in now.

Because he’s a video editor, the job of picking out what’s fake and what seems to be real is easier for him. Aided by his sympathetic mother, the duo go off on a very interesting investigative journey as they narrow down their choices to three people ― a psychic, a businessman and a professor.

Again, I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, but I guess it’s enough to say that the film is one of those “be careful what you wish for” movies as the poor guy got more than he bargained for, but it’s where Holland and Mitton take the movie once he gets to that point that makes it an interesting watch.

There’s genuine emotion at work here, and the phrase “we go on” takes on a really poignant meaning once he gets what he wished for.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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