The twenty-first millennium has certainly gotten off to a rocky start. Terrorism, war, economic turmoil…is it any surprise if our thoughts occasionally turn to the End of Days? Apocalypse has been in the public consciousness in the past decade, from Heroes to I Am Legend. I’m a big fan of the genre myself, and was excited to check out After Judgment, an independently produced web from Captain Films and Ultimatum Entertainment. It’s a post-apocolyptic thriller about….er….do you have a few minutes?
I’ll try to make this short: After Judgment takes place in a nameless Californian town (okay, it’s L.A) a hundred years in the future, though the world seems pretty much the same, if a little emptier. Our protagonists are Steven (Joel Bryant, one of several strong actors in the series) and Michelle (series co-producer Taryn O’Neill). Beyond that….it gets tricky. Director/Writer Michael Davies explained it to me:
“Life is very complicated, so when I’m creating a fictitious world, I think to make it believable and authentic it needs to have multiple layers; complex, intersecting storylines and plot points with interesting, relatable, and identifiable characters…thus making them as real and human as the actors playing them.”
Adding to the complicity (and the confusion) is the fact that the series is non-linear. Scenes are played of out of order, and the context of a particular moment might not be revealed until several episodes later. Davies pushes this technique almost to the breaking point, so that you need to watch at least until episode seven before you can get any kind of grip on what’s going on.
For some, piecing together the After Judgment puzzle will be part of the entertainment experience. If that’s you, skip the rest of this paragraph. Ye of little patience, read the summary here: Time has become frozen, meaning nothing progresses, people don’t age, and it’s almost impossible to die. Many people have lost their minds, and our main man Steven is one of the more together residents of this purgatory-ish town. He hooks up with equally sane Michelle, tries to avoid a group of secret police known as Trainers, gets lot of cryptic messages from people who may be crazy, and searches for a little boy who may or may not be the key to something or other.
In other words, this series itself is a puzzle. It asks it’s audience to get lost in abstraction for a little while, and then slowly find it’s way back to a narrative. Mainstream hits like LOST and Heroes have shown a similar strategy of keeping an audience engaged, but this being the internet, After Judgment kicks it up a notch.
Before Judgment is a companion series which focus on characters before the events of the apocalypse (referred to as “The Day”). These short videos are shot in the style of a field research tape, an episode of a TMZ-esque tv show, and a video confessional (cause all web series needs at least a little of that).
Before Judgment is much easier to follow than the main series, and a lot more fun (depending on your tolerance for Biblical lore and some rather disconcerting use of 9-11 footage). Before Judgment is also handy for making sense of the events of After Judgment, though after hacking through eight episodes of AJ and putting events together myself, watching Before Judgment felt a little like finding the answers for a test I’d just studied really hard for.
While it might be difficult to wrap your head around the series, the quality of the show’s cinematography is instantly apparent. Shot on the HVX-200 camera and put through the post-production ringer, writer/director Davies has acheived a cinematic look that at time evokes the intensely rich colors of O Brother Where Art Thou. Visually speaking, this show is ready for broadcast.
After Judgment is easy on the eyes and tough on brain. The ideas behind the story have barely begun to emerge, and untill they do it’s hard to judge whether all the confusion and delayed understanding will have been worth it. However, the more naturalistic writing of the Before Judgement shorts suggests Davies has the chops to create characters and striking situations independent of structural confusion and gimmicks. I’m hoping that when the proper plot of After Judgment gets rolling, it’ll keep my attention not because of the ambtious structure, but because of the strength of the story.
Check it out at AfterJudgement.com.