NEXT EXIT movie poster | ©2022 Magnet Releasing

NEXT EXIT movie poster | ©2022 Magnet Releasing

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Katie Parker, Rahul Kohli, Rose McIver, Tongayi Chirisa, Tim Griffin, Diva Zappa, Nico Evers-Swindell, Karen Gillan, Jim Ortlieb
Writer: Mali Elfman
Director: Mali Elfman
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Release Date: November 4, 2022

NEXT EXIT begins with a small scare, as a little boy sees the ghost of his father in his bedroom. Then the two proceed to play cards.

This turns out to be the basis for a study by Dr. Stevensen (Karen Gillan), a researcher who has, she says, developed a way to track souls into the afterlife. Her experiments bring her a stream of willing participants who “transition” so she can follow them into what she calls “My Life Beyond.”

Congress is trying to shut down Dr. Stevensen’s study, while society is roiled by changes wrought by new belief in life after death.

This all sounds intriguing, but it’s mostly in the background of NEXT EXIT, which is written and directed by Mali Elfman. Instead, we are up close and personal with Rose (Katie Parker) and Teddy (Rahul Kohli). Both of them have volunteered to participate in Dr. Stevensen’s work, which is headquartered in San Francisco.

Rose and Teddy, who don’t know each other, are both in New York City (she’s local, he’s a London transplant). Dr. Stevensen’s organization has arranged for rental cars for each of them, but due to complications, they wind up sharing a single vehicle for the cross-country drive.

There is the traditional chatty (Teddy) vs. surly (Rose) chemistry of most road trip and romantic movies. The two have different reasons for wanting to pass over, and each has their own trauma. They also meet quite a mixture of folks along the journey.

It’s all done well, with Kohli giving an especially raw emotional performance, and Parker imbuing Rose’s anger and despair with conviction. Tim Griffin is impactful as a bar patron with serious problems of his own, and Diva Zappa provides some bright moments as a fan of meteor showers.

Fans of iZOMBIE will likely enjoy seeing a few scenes between that show’s erstwhile costars Kohli and Rose McIver, who appears in a key supporting role late in the proceedings.

Thanks to Azuli Anderson’s atmospheric cinematography and Sally Levi’s shrewd production design, we do get a sense that we (along with Rose and Teddy) are traveling through varied towns and landscapes.

What we don’t get is how Dr. Stevensen’s study works, and why she needs healthy volunteers instead of just getting consent to track people already dying in hospitals.

We comprehend what Teddy hopes to accomplish by participating, but we learn so little that we remain unsure of Rose’s motivation. There are several possibilities, but by the end, this seems like it ought to be clearer.

Once we know them a bit, Rose and Teddy are decent company. The dilemmas that brought them to where they are at present are credible and the acting is good. But Elfman may have set out more signposts than intended – at the end, we’re at the destination that’s been indicated along the route.

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