Some very bad movies are famous for being so-bad-they're-good. Some are so-bad-they're-painful-to-sit-through. And then there are those so very awful that they function as alien artifacts, glimpses into some alternate dimension where things that resemble people wander through a landscape that completely fails to offer any semblance of life as we know it.
Case in point: After Last Season, reputed to be the single worst movie to actually show in theaters in 2009. (How bad was the film? So bad that many were sure it had to be a prank. Entertainment Weekly even reported on rumors that it had been directed by Spike Jonze and released as part of a viral marketing campaign for Where the Wild Things Are.) It's nominally a science fiction story about a psychology experiment that plugs the researchers into visions of a series of murders taking place near campus, but providing that plot synopsis gives After Last Season credit for more coherence than it achieves. In fact, it's an alternate world where people wander through stark rooms of stacked cardboard, where MRI machines are sculpted out of styrofoam and where the shadow of an unlit light bulb hanging on a lonely string distracts from a professor whose classroom appears made out of particle board.
This is a world where conversations about nothing in particular are regularly interrupted by insert shots of random objects like ceiling fans and broken-down bookcases and, at one exciting moment, a folded towel on top of a filing cabinet. It's a world where sheets of ordinary printer paper, taped to walls at strategic locations or represented to us as local newspapers, are as important to the overall look of the civilization as intrusive heating ducts were to the inhabitants of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. The exterior walls of one house have sheets taped to them every few feet (as awnings, I suppose), and one conversation is interrupted by an interminable close-up of the posted notice "The Dormitory Has New Recycling Containers." In After Last Season, you know you're in a psychology lab because another wall bears another sheet of paper labeling it "Psychology Lab," even though the only table is covered with a disposable tablecloth and the floor is littered with pieces of cardboard.
Other sets look like basements, unoccupied offices and unfurnished apartments into which chairs or folding tables have been thrust to simulate environments inhabited by actual people, an effort that fails when the cameras reveal extension cords or litter or windows that have been incompletely covered up to simulate uninterrupted walls. The production designer was a guy named Gregory Reed. Next to his work in this film, the papier-mache graveyard in Plan 9 From Outer Space was a titanic achievement.
The dialogue and performances are even worse. None of the actors, including the protagonists played by Jason Kulas and Peggy McClellan, seem to have anything in mind but getting to the end of their respective lines without tripping over their tongues ... a goal they don't always manage, not that their stumbles ever inspired director Mark Region to shoot another take. At one point two women chuckle warmly for no particular reason when reporting that one off-screen personality works as a carpenter. Conversations circle obsessively around irrelevancies like the availability of a working printer in the basement and the popularity of a local hot springs.
And then there's the CGI: endless sequences from the trances entered into by the experimenting protagonists, where floating cones and cubes combine and recombine to form the visions that lead toward the confrontation with the story's killer. None of them function as well as a 1997-era screen saver. But the movie certainly seems very impressed with those spinning cubes and cones. No doubt a double feature leading from this film to Avatar would cause a number of exploding heads.
One published account informs us that after this film was booked in four theaters to minimal business, the distributors instructed the venues to destroy their copies rather than incur the cost of shipping them back. It's tempting to wish that somebody had thought of doing the same with the original, but then we wouldn't have what we have now: evidence that the makers not only went to the time and effort of making this thing but imagined that it was worth inflicting on other people. Of course, a small number of you will now bend heaven and earth to see it, so we must inform you that the DVD is available through Amazon or through the film's site.