It’s clear from the beginning of the New Age pap known as Hereafter, written by Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen) and produced and directed by Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino, Invictus), that we’re in for a slog: a hunky Frenchman and his pouty girlfriend arise at daylight in a southeast Asian paradise and every shot and movement is slow and deliberate, so you know disaster looms. Hereafter does that and never lets up, easing off for a few scenes, suddenly slamming children with trucks, then laying on platitudes and all this in an apparent effort to convince us to have faith in the face of death. Hinting that evidence (minus facts, of course) for psychic and near-death white light experiences bears some relation to an afterlife, courtesy of a cameo by the always compelling German actress Marthe Keller (Black Sunday, Bobby Deerfield) as an atheist, the death stories never seem to end.
When they do, what’s left is a contrived convergence of some of the most deadly characters on screen this year. There’s Matt Damon’s inscrutable Bay Area psychic, who reads Dickens, sees dead people and gets the best lines, another of those lifeless, expressionless, monotonous types that Damon does for a living. There’s a Parisian broadcast journalist (Cecile de France) who pouts and ponders after nearly being swept away from life, which is as involving as it sounds. And there’s a wayward twin (Frankie McLaren), a boy who wanders the streets of London like something out of Dickens. As Damon’s psychic factory worker tells the tale of having gone from surgery to nightmares, migraines, and psychic connections to his cooking class love interest (Bryce Dallas Howard), Hereafter chugs along, mixing in Francois Mitterand and dead spouses, children, and terrorist attacks, which everyone insists on referring to as “events”. The whole dull mess feels like a geriatric Close Encounters of the Third Kind with death replacing aliens as the hot topic.
But Hereafter, one of the worst movies I’ve seen this year, keeps going on hokum despite running out of juice. The journalist finally figures out what most probably can figure out in the first few minutes, Damon’s mannequin finally realizes that he doesn’t have a “duty to help others” as his parasitic brother (Jay Mohr) claims, and the wandering boy finally stops roaming convention halls and hotel rooms and comes to believe in something. Hereafter (opening this weekend and opening wide on October 22) has better moments, mostly when Morgan and Eastwood say something about life, but it tries to have death and the notion of an afterlife every which way and ends up neither here nor there.