New VOD Releases: After We Leave (2020)-Reviewed

Some of my favorite sci-fi films are the kind that exist in a well drawn future world that's mostly relegated to the background. While not being strictly sci-fi, on thing that really struck me about 2017's Logan was what you saw happening around our characters, specifically the robotic, self-driving trucks. Little touches of world building that exist to enhance our immersion often go further for me than long bits of exposition. Aleem Hossain's feature debut After We Leave is entirely that kind of movie. 

Set in a future that feels startlingly close, where global warming has devastated the planet (a radio broadcast reveals 1/3 of the planet is now desert), we meet Jack (Brian Silverman). Homeless, bruised and exhausted, he's searching for his wife. In this future world, with the planet dying, humans are making the jump to live off world. The process in which one leaves is through a visa application and Jack's has just come through. His problem? It's a couples' visa, he's estranged from his wife and as we progress, we find he's burned almost every other bridge imaginable. Oh and his ship leaves in four days. 

Jack's journey back into the criminal underbelly that he escaped from allows us to see just how bleak this near future is but from a distance. Establishing shots show us futuristic cityscapes, we get glimpses at tech, a bit evolved from what we're used to and most pertinent, we see the hell our world has become. The only sustainable way of life for most people is crime and clean water is almost nonexistent. It's frightening because that possibility isn't far off. Especially the latter. Watching how people are forced live, drinking soda over water because the water will make them sick, it reminds you of places like Flint. Hossain's focus on humanity over technology keeps this grounded in a sense of urgent reality.

The visa process is harrowing because it's intimated throughout the film that the wealthy are long gone. People like Jack have to apply years in advance and hope that their number comes up. And even then, it's not a guarantee because once it's revealed he has a visa, Jack becomes a target to every person he's ever wronged. He has the ticket to a better life and it's hard to blame any of these people from taking their shot. It's a tale as old as time, the wealthy pitting the poor against one another at the mere idea of a better existence.

 Very few sci-fi films capably exist both in the future and in the now. We're generally treated to far off scenarios that might happen. Watching this lo-fi fi, somber crime saga, you wouldn't be too far off in thinking that this is going to happen. And it's going to happen much sooner than we'd like to believe. 

Hossain spent $30,000 and 4 years making his film and in a lot of ways it shows. The performances aren't always very good, especially from our heavy (Clay Wilcox) and more than a few scenes drag on just a bit too long, perhaps existing as coverage to pad out the run time. That's to be expected with a budget this low. Hossain and his film deserve all the praise in the world for how good this looks. The future scapes are seamlessly woven into the modern world, again immersing the viewer comfortably into this uncomfortable world. In making a mystery by way of crime story first and sci fi epic second, Hossain grounds his tale in believability. Nothing ever feels too distant and our stakes as relatable and top-of-mind as it gets.

After We Leave is a solid indie that's as close to reality as sci-fi gets. Using every ounce of his budget, Aleem Hossain immediately makes his mark as a filmmaker to watch. Not of all of it works but that fact that most of it does makes this a small miracle. The intense criminal nature and devastating societal commentary should play as a warning more than anything else. As our world dies and we're forced to scrounge for a means to survive, After We Leave's question is right in its title. Leave doesn't refer to leaving the Earth for another planet but rather what kind of world are we leaving for those who come after us? What kind of people are we going to be in a world that becomes increasingly dangerous? Its answers aren't easy but the journey is necessary. After We Leave is about as urgent as it gets.

-Brandon Streussnig