The big scary twist at the end of a horror film is one of the genre’s most popular tropes. When done well, it can be highly effective and make a movie more successful. Done badly, and the film is doomed to meme status forever. Unfortunately, many horror filmmakers fall into the trap of overly relying on their twists to make the film good.
Sadly, if a film is lacking in every other element, the twist won’t do much. This problem often arises when the twist is what the filmmakers have centered their movie around. It’s really obvious to the viewers when watching a film that does this because it’s usually a good/scary twist, but the rest of the film is incoherent or boring. Horror films that do this are constantly coming out, but one notable example is the brand new Netflix horror/thriller Aftermath.
Somewhat based on a true story, Aftermath tells the story of a couple who have been through marriage troubles and are looking for a fresh start. They move into a house where a horrible crime occurred in the past, and it doesn’t take long for spooky stuff to happen. For the entire film, viewers are kind of wondering whether it’s a supernatural force or a person who is terrorizing them. In the last act of the film, everything is pieced together and comes to light with a big reveal. Though the twist is actually relatively effective and scary, so much of this film is bad that it’s entirely wasted.
Despite boasting a “based on a true story” title card, Aftermath is largely made up for the film. The true events are based on the story of Jerry Rice and Janice Ruhter. After buying a house in San Diego together, Rice and Ruhter experienced stalking and harassment from a woman whose offer they beat. She signed them up for $1000 of magazine subscriptions, sent Valentine’s Day cards to women under Rice’s name, and even posted online pretending to be Ruhter looking for a man to fulfill a violent sexual fantasy. Luckily, she was found out before anything physically harmed the couple. These events are mirrored in Aftermath, though the perpetrator is different. In the end, though, it is revealed that these stalking incidents are completely unrelated to the real danger of the film.
The final reveal is that many of the strange occurrences they’ve been experiencing have actually been caused by a deranged man who has secretly lived in the home with them. This character is very creepy and the concept of someone being in your home without your knowledge is, obviously, terrifying. Those elements make the twist actually relatively effective, and it mostly makes sense with the rest of the film. Despite that, Aftermath has so many issues that it still falls short of being scary, memorable, or even good.
Starting with even just the opening sequence, it’s pretty obvious that Aftermath is going to be filled with cheese. And on that, it really delivers. Not only does most of the story feel cheap and unoriginal, but how it all plays out is very awkward. None of the characters are entirely likable, and there are too many misdirections in the writing to get to know any of them or their dynamics properly. All of the dialogue is bad. None of it flows or seems natural at all, and the bad acting certainly doesn’t help that. As a whole, there are just too many moments where the viewer is left confused at the characters, what they’re saying, and the decisions they’re making.
As a whole, Aftermath just doesn’t go where it needs to go. It doesn’t hit the beats it needs to hit, whether it’s the jump scares or emotional moments or comedic relief. None of it really works or comes off as effective in the slightest. Most plot points taking place feel really predictable and really clunky, nothing is nuanced or well-integrated into the story. The reveal at the end is interesting and fun, but it doesn’t make up for the rest of the film. Not to mention, they make it extremely confusing with an ominous and seemingly open-ended final shot. Almost every decision made when it comes to this movie makes no sense and does not work.
After watching the movie, it’s clear that it was always meant to revolve around the twist. That element of the story seems to be the only one that’s been handled with any care. It’s a shame because done properly, the idea and the twist could have made for a very scary movie. Instead, this all feels very Lifetime or made-for-TV. Those kinds of movies have their place, but Aftermath had the makings to be something more. Had they really leaned into it being scary and intense, and had they written the characters to be people the audience could feel for, this one really could have been a gem.
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