Afterimages (2014) is an anthology-style movie with shorts that fit so well into the main storyline that it avoids the clunkiness that a lot of anthologies suffer from. It's about a group of university students & friends who decide to burn a camera as an offering during Ghost Month, a Buddhist tradition during which people burn items that their ancestors might need in the afterlife. In modern times, this has grown to include things like money and phones - though they're typically made from joss paper and not actual freaking cars and phones.
Yeah, dude just tossed a camera onto a fire. And then another... and... you get the point.
Pretty sure these kids single-handedly burned a hole in the ozone layer.
Plus... the camera... the pretty, pretty camera.
Anyway, when the fire burns down to nothing, they find a reel of film in the ashes. Like ya do. Naturally, they watch it and, realizing it's creepy as all get out, decide to go bigger and try a video camera instead of a SLR. That's when the fun really starts.
I think I'll have a look at each short before I come back to the main story. So...
"Ghost Pool Leg"
A security guard shows up and tries to warn the creepo away but, being a creepo, he just won't listen. He has every right to be there! *eyeroll* Okay, listen. If a security guard tells me to stay out of the pool or else a ghost is gonna get me, I don't care if he's stark, raving mad - I'm out! Better safe than haunted.
"Ghost Pool Leg" teases a good long time, giving you plenty of opportunities to wonder one: how long can this fucker hold his breath? and two: when is she going to turn into the nasty ghostie we know she is? It gives you just enough time to start to get comfy and... GAH!
There were a couple of things I really enjoyed about this one. I liked that the security guard turned out to be one of the ghost's victims. Clever. And satisfying since, you know... he warned him. I also enjoyed that the creepo thought he'd made it out - that and the way the glass in the mirror turned into water when he touched it, returning him to his own personal hell.
Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
"Xiao Bao Bao"
There was a lot about "Xiao Bao Bao" I found deeply disturbing - but probably not for the reasons I should have. Like... I found the fact that the girl's reaction to someone jumping to their death outside her window was to grab her phone and take photos deeply disturbing. What a ghoul! It was also quite disturbing that she was happy to let her cat walk on the ledge of her balcony. Bad kitty mommy!
(This is where Jay usually reminds me that it's a movie and, therefore, not real but I'm one of those people who absolutely yells at the screen. Super fun to watch movies with.)
The rest of the story... well, it was creepy, for sure. Like the other shorts, it was full of cheeky stings and cheap jumps. The ghost was well used, sneaking into the background or creeping along the ceiling. Oh, and there was a creepy janitor thrown in for good measure, which every good horror movie needs, right?
I honestly wasn't expecting any of the shorts to have a happy ending so "Xiao Bao Bao" was a bit of a surprise. The girl helps the ghost return a lost blanket to the ghost's... niece? Sister? I'm not sure it's ever explained, but that's not really important. I just hope she learns her lesson about gawking at crime scenes.
"Skin Deep" is probably my favourite of the shorts. It involves a little black magic, a broken elevator, and a group of strangers who slowly figure out the building they're in is on fire. (Naturally, the Old White Guy is a total douchebag and the British couple just has to chatter with everyone.) As the smoke gets worse, a young woman with asthma starts to struggle, then her inhaler runs out. Eventually, a beautiful but aloof woman tries to sneak a puff on her own inhaler.
Because there's always someone in a catastrophe who'd rather hoard and let other people die than inconvenience themselves, amiright? (Pandemic Lesson #1: People are assholes.)
When the others take the inhaler from her, she keeps insisting that she can't die there and ultimately reveals that she's used black magic to make herself beautiful and successful - but, unless she can remove the golden needles under the skin on her face to break the spell, she'll go to hell when she dies. She pulls out a knife and starts cutting herself open, much to the horror of everyone stuck in the elevator with her. (And me. I am not a fan of the body gore. I mean... cool effects, but gag!) There they are... the golden needles none of the others believed in. She can die in peace.
Then the doors open and they're all free. Well, the rest of them are free. She ages rapidly and dies a withered old woman. A shot of her passport, which has fallen out of her purse, reveals her true birthday as the short ends.
This might be the simplest of the shorts, since it doesn't rely as much on ghostly figures and the like, but it was the easiest one to watch. Simple story, brilliantly wrapped up, with a tasty bit of irony to seal the deal. Perfect.
The final short, "Rekindling," is my least favourite. It comes across as mundane and boring - though, in hindsight, the foreshadowing is actually quite good. I didn't much care by the end, though, because it just couldn't hold my attention. Too long to set it up, not enough payoff for the wait.
Long story short: guy proposes to girl, girl says no, guy kills girl and dumps her in the ocean. (That social commentary is so obvious I'm not even going to mention it.) Then, girl's ghost comes back - in pieces... and interesting combinations of pieces (And by "interesting," I mean dumb. A head with an arm attached? Why?) - to torment him until the cops hunt him down and lock him up.
Where he can't run away from Angry Ghost Girl.
The CGI is just terrible in this one, which is a shame because it's good throughout the rest of the movie. It's so bad it turns the ghost into a total joke and ruins any effectiveness it might have had. I really don't understand why this one short alone had such terrible CGI.
But, anyway, back to the main story...
The friends watch each video as it's spawned from the depths of hell and decide to use one to ace the film project they're supposed to be working on (instead of, you know, getting drunk and burning cameras.) Before long, they opt for putting them all together into a movie they can sell instead. There's some in-fighting and, of course, the friend who keeps warning them that what they're doing is dangerous (only to be ignored.) The decide to burn just one more camera... which turns out to be one camera too many. The final film is theirs. We get to watch them watch their deaths play out in real time.
When the authorities arrive, they find a bunch of film, miraculously untouched by the fire that ravaged the house the friends were staying in. Only one thing to do with all that film, right?
I'd say poor cops but, eh, they're cops. Could probably do with a good haunting...
Afterimages can be trippy in places, especially when they're watching the hell films, but it never gets so trippy that it's unbearable. Medium weird. The film excels at transitions, even from the start. I liked the movie's intro and it flowed effortlessly into the action. The whole movie plays like that, slipping in and out of stories so seamlessly that it never becomes jarring, despite the different styles and themes.
Is it perfect? Well, no. There were a few niggling things that bugged me. For instance, in "Ghost Pool Leg," the security guard warns that the ghost needs a replacement but that doesn't seem to be the case. More like company. She isn't freed when the creepo dies so I'm not sure what that's about. They mention the same thing in the next short, but it's never utilized, then never mentioned again. It would have made sense to drop that bit altogether.
Also, they go from burning actual cameras to burning paper cameras somewhere along the line. Not the fancy ones you'd see for sale during Ghost Month, which are quite good, but the kind elementary school kids would make with construction paper and tape. I don't understand why it was important to burn actual cameras to start with, then crappy paper ones later - or why there was a massive pile of paper cameras at one point. Just seems sloppy.
My final complaint is about Kevin Lagrange as Deuce. For the most part, the acting was good, both during the main story and the shorts. Lagrange, though... his accent was so inconsistent that I'm still not sure if he just couldn't hold it, or if he spent half the film making fun of the Asians in the group. (I think I actually kind of hope he just sucked at accents because that would not be cool.)
I thoroughly enjoyed Afterimages. There are many things to recommend this one, with very little that works against it. There are plenty of brilliant jumps, clever foreshadowing, and some well-timed fake-outs. I know I said that I didn't like "Rekindling" and I didn't. That's just how anthologies work; some stories will be more to your taste than others. It didn't annoy me so much I wouldn't recommend Afterimages. Solid 5/5, despite its flaws.