NEXT EXIT, written and directed by Mali Elfman, has hearts, comedy, and moments of fright. The film follows Rose (Katie Parker) and Teddy (Rahul Kohli) as strangers forced to share a road trip to their next destination; the afterlife. Opposites in their reasoning, Rose looks to escape her regret-filled life, and Teddy sees his chance to “make it.” So, they join a study that will help them die so the doctors can track them into the afterlife. The afterlife surrounds the story, but NEXT EXIT is a hilarious, contentious road trip meets bucket list; it is about how to live.
NEXT EXIT has frightening moments, such as the opening scene with little boy Reo (Gavin Powers). His experience confirms that ghosts are real, and Life Beyond, helmed by Dr. Stevenson (Karen Gillan), claims they can track a person after they transition from this world to the next. The world’s reaction to the news creates conflict. Some commit suicide on their own, while others, including politicians and courts, argue the legality of Dr. Stevenson’s assisted suicide plan.
The film sets up a mystery with hints of horror thanks to Rose; she sees a dark presence near her everywhere she goes. Rose has an abrasive personality. She says few words but is rude when she does speak. Teddy is a talker and a comedic one at that. When they arrive at the same car rental but are denied because Rose lacks a credit card and Teddy lacks a valid Driver’s License, the rental service suggests they use the same car since they are on their way to the same destination. They are an unintentional hilarious pair if a bit morbid.
Katie Parker and Rahul Kohli are fantastic together. Rahul Kohli delivers a moving, nuanced performance and expresses so much depth with his facial features alone. Katie Parker has been on my radar since 2011’s Absentia, one of my favorite underrated horror films from Mike Flanagan. She gives an accurate portrayal of the toxic cycle of guilt and self-destruction. Screw up, feel bad, then punish yourself by screwing up again.
The discussion of assisted dying is interspersed throughout with characters the duo meets along the way conveying their thoughts on the subject. Assisted dying or physician-assisted dying is a debated topic when the person wants to die because of a terminal illness. Imagine the debate when the person has no terminal ailments. There is also uncertainty regarding the belief that ghosts are benevolent beings that just want to be close to those they love. If they are warm, then who or what is Rose seeing?
The directing is minimal until they arrive at their destination. The subdued quality of NEXT EXIT increases the personal feel accompanying Rose and Teddy on their journey. The special effects at the end are subpar, so it was difficult to immerse myself. But this is a story where the end matters less than the journey.
As their trip progresses, they transition from strangers to more. That is not surprising given Teddy’s infectious humor, making it impossible not to laugh. Rose and Teddy learn about each other and themselves through their connection. NEXT EXIT is creepy at times, but a delightfully dark comedy, with two impressive performances holding the story together.
NEXT EXIT had its World Premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.