NEXT EXIT (2022)

Release Date: Tribeca Film Festival (2022)

Genre: Comedy/Drama/SciFi

Studio: TBA

"One of life’s greatest mysteries has been solved: Life after death does exist. The widespread acceptance of ghosts has led to Life Beyond, a radical scientific study based in San Francisco and launched by Dr. Stevenson (Karen Gillan), through which volunteers can commit pain-free suicide. After all, what’s left to fear about the afterlife? In New York City, two ready-to-die strangers, Rose (Katie Parker) and Teddy (Rahul Kohli), randomly end up sharing a rental car for a cross-country trip to their respective Life Beyond appointments. Friction gradually gives way to a deep emotional connection they’ve both needed, one that allows Rose and Teddy to confront personal traumas and embrace the kind of love they’ve each previously rejected. Unfortunately, their dates with death loom."


Mali Elfman’s Next Exit is one of the few films this year that truly stunned me with its execution, ideas, and emotion it conveys. It’s one of the most original road trip films out there and its incredibly dark, somewhat sinister ideals make for a journey fueled with dread and existential crises.

Rahul Kohli, who became an instant favorite during his time on iZombie (The CW), is absolutely phenomenal in his delivery as Teddy - asserting himself in some awkward conversations and humor but coming out of it as a charmer. One pivotal scene near the film’s climax drew me in and helped me better understand the emotions going on behind Teddy’s optimistic exterior; Kohli’s performance in these moments is not only impactful on the surface level, but you can feel the pain he is suffering, even through your own psyche. 


Traveling on the opposite side, always in the driver seat, is Katie Parker’s Rose. Haunted by her demons, she and Teddy must travel across the country to San Francisco to participate in an experimental program that tracks a person’s passage into the afterlife. Parker delivers a performance with a lingering mystery behind her entire being. She is easily agitated and guided with the idea of being reunited with her late mother. Parker in correspondence with Kohli is an incredible performer, bringing about a character that is so easy to initially dislike, but the more her story opens, the more you can understand her state of being. 


Visually, the film keeps itself centered on the characters within the vehicle at rest stops and motels - the supernatural element of the story is just a part of the world, continuously being explored, but it’s never the epicenter of these characters’ arcs. When the supernatural does occur, it is relatively subtle and makes itself known, but never causes a huge scene (like in modern horrors pinpointed at jumpscares). Near the film’s close, the visuals absorb the scene, with a quick, dire look at the passage into the afterlife while having hints of both Jordan Peele’s Get Out and Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin in their infinite nothingness.


The total message behind Next Exit can be taken in many different ways, and the story’s simplistic approach at showcasing the existence of an afterlife may trigger certain people in unpredictable ways. However for myself, the message is clear and opens the idea of while yes, there may be more beyond, maybe there’s something right in front of you worth sticking around for.

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