30th Aug2022

Frightfest 2022: ‘Next Exit’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Katie Parker, Rahul Kohli, Karen Gillan, Rose McIver | Written and Directed by Mali Elfman

After a video surfaces of a child playing cards with a ghost – released by “life Beyond’ a scientific study based in San Francisco and run by Dr. Stevenson (Karen Gillan) – leads to widespread acceptance of ghosts, people begin volunteering to commit suicide so they can be part of the scientific research and move on to the afterlife. An afterlife that is no longer terrifying given what Stevenson’s research has revealed. Two of those volunteers are New Yorkers Rose, a woman who’s seemingly trying to escape her current life; and Teddy, a man who wants to be famous – even if fame is found through dying. The duo, total strangers, find themselves at a car rental place. Both are denied a rental – Rose because she doesn’t have a credit card and Teddy because his license expires in a week – and so comedically end up sharing one card to their fateful destination…

Next Exit comes from writer-director Mali Elfman – daughter of composer and musician Danny Elfman (the man behind the iconic Batman ’89 soundtrack amongst others) and nice of Richard Elfman, the director of cult films such as Forbidden Zone and Full Moon’s Shrunken Heads. Why am I telling you this? Well one, it’s pretty cool the Elfman name is continuing in a new generation and two, it’s because Next Exit has an interesting sensibility, one that feels very much akin to the work of her father and her uncle. You see for a film that deals with the afterlife and suicide, Next Exit is remarkably funny! Off-kilter and funny but funny nonetheless.

Essentially a road movie that’s more about the journey than the destination, Next Exit is carried by its two leads Katie Parker and Rahul Kohli, who play Rose and Teddy respectively. There’s a real sense of pathos when it comes to Rose. She’s clearly a woman broken by life, her choices, her actions, her regrets but whilst she’s seeking salvation in death she instead finds it in Teddy. Meanwhile Teddy is looking for purpose and meaning. He feels that becoming famous, even in death, will bring him that. But it turns out that all Teddy needed was to find someone who could be meaningful to him and for him. And he finds that in Rose.

It’s not just the characters that take a journey, the film takes the audience on one too. Next Exit starts out tense, with our two leads bickering and fighting; but then the more time they spend together the more the two come to enjoy their trip – which leads to the films more lighter moments. Then Rose and Teddy become close, opening up to each other about their lives etc., and they grow to have an emotional bond, which brings with it empathy for the pair and their predicament. Then we get the end, literally and figuratively, as Rose and Teddy arrive in San Francisco. An end that provides the dramatic payoff, yet one that doesn’t provide a definitive answer to the questions Rose, Teddy and those that take part in ‘Life Beyond’ are seeking.

But that’s the thing. Next Exit is not about the answers to death. It’s about the answers to life. We see Rose, so closed off from life in her own bubble, finally open up with Teddy; and Teddy, so caught up in his own ideals of who he should be and how he should live, drops that facade and realises that he can just be Teddy – something Rose accepts him for. Both go from wanting to die to wanting to live.

And whilst the film does explore heavy issues like PTSD, depression, suicide and assisted suicide, ultimately Next Exit is more of a celebration of life than an exploration of death.

**** 4/5

Next Exit screened as part of this year’s Arrow Video London Frightfest.


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